Twenty years ago, the first students to receive their GEDs through the Winchester-Clark County Literacy Council celebrated their graduation at the Leeds Theatre.
This evening, the final group of GED graduates through the Council’s Adult Education Center will walk in their caps and gowns to receive their diplomas at First Christian Church, Disciples of Christ.
That first graduating class was 17 people. Tonight, friends and family members will be there to support the 73 students who make up the 2012 class.
“We’ve increased each year,” said Alice Tucker, president of the Literacy Council, during a recent interview.
Tucker has been the president for 27 years. Before it was the Literacy Council, Tucker said, it began as a group of ladies that wanted to fulfill the Golden Rule: “Treat others as you want them to treat you.”
In 1981, the late Doris Henry attended a tutor training workshop in Lexington and learned to teach adults to read, Tucker said.
Henry did not want to go to Fayette County to teach adults to read, when she knew there were adults in Clark County who needed to learn.
So, with a donation of $300 from the late Hazel Hieronymus, Henry and Hieronymus bought some supplies and began a tutoring program, Tucker recalled.
Tucker got involved with the tutoring program in 1985 when Hieronymus asked her, “Alice, would you like to teach an adult to read?”
“Well, I never had thought about it, but yes, I would like to do that,” Tucker then answered.
For the first few years, Tucker said, the tutors met their students wherever they could.
“It really came on from us just as Christians, just wanting to do something to help somebody else, and that was to learn to read and write,” Tucker said. “Treat others as you want them to treat you.”
In 1985, by executive order of then Gov. Martha Layne Collins, the Kentucky Literacy Commission was formed. Clark County received the first literacy grant from the state in 1986, and the tutoring group called itself “Operation Read.”
After the program received the grant from the state, the group rented space on the second floor of the McEldowney Building. The first “coordinator,” a position that is now designated as the executive director, was hired in 1986. Tucker was elected president of the Council that year.
It was in 1990 that the program incorporated as a nonprofit under the current name of Winchester-Clark County Literacy Council Inc.
In 1991, having outgrown the McEldowney Building, the Council moved to a building on Broadway. In 1993, having again outgrown its space, the Council moved the Adult Education Center to its present location, 52 N. Maple St.
It was also in that year that the state placed the GED program in the hands of the Literacy Council, and its administration began teaching the classes at the center.
Council staff has also taught GED classes at the Clark County Detention Center since 1992. They have provided other free educational services to the community also, including English as a Second Language courses, classes for mentally challenged adults at the Pioneer House and tutoring for adults.
Contracts for the adult education services in Clark County are awarded by the Kentucky Adult Education arm of the Council on Postsecondary Education. Under the Workforce Investment Act, the department is required to have competitive grants in which multiple entities can bid on the services.
Bluegrass Community and Technical College submitted and was awarded a bid, and will be the new provider of adult education services to Clark County beginning June 30.
Since the Literacy Council announced it would be closing its doors, several community leaders have praised the group and the educational programs it has offered through the years.
During the last Winchester Board of Commissioners meeting, Mayor Ed Burtner called the GED graduation ceremonies “one of the most heartwarming experiences.”
“Because these are people who dropped out of school, many of them cannot read, but they learn to read,” he said. “I spoke at a GED graduation a couple years ago, and there was a mother and a child that were in the same place. There was a grandmother-aged woman in the class that took the adult literacy program so she could learn to read her Bible.”
Tucker said she and the Literacy Council staff are pleased that adult education services will continue to be offered in Clark County.
The Council, Tucker estimates, has helped more than 900 people earn their GEDs in Clark County.
“It’s been very satisfying and pleasing to know that for all these years, almost 30 years, we’ve been a vital part of teaching adult education in Winchester and Clark County,” she said.
Tonight will mark the end of one organization’s work to promote literacy, and the beginning of another’s.
And as one of the people who has been involved from the very beginning, Tucker will be the one to welcome classmates of the Literacy Council’s final graduating GED¿class to their ceremony tonight.
Contact Katie Perkowski at email@example.com or follow her on Twitter, @TheSunKatie.