Building High Capacity Providers: Houston READ Commission Offers a Wide Range of Services to Support Literacy

Established in 1988 by the Mayor and City Council, Houston READ Commission oversees the Mayor’s Coalition for Literacy, an association of more than 175 literacy sites in Houston, serving more than 50,000 people annually.

The Commission’s goal is to support and ensure literacy providers’ effectiveness in addressing the pressing need for literacy programming in the Houston area. According to the 2003 National Adult Literacy Survey, 1 in 3 adult Houstonians is functionally illiterate, and Houston ranks as one of the least literate cities in the United States. To accomplish its vision of a 100% literate Houston, the Commission offers numerous services to Coalition members, including professional development, advocacy, and technical and fundraising assistance.

Volunteer and Professional Development

Houston READ Commission takes a holistic approach in the professional development courses it offers by focusing not only on improving literacy services at provider agencies, but also on the managerial stability of the organizations. Executive Director Sheri Foreman, an MBA graduate and former small business owner, explains, “If you don’t have a strong business, you won’t be able to do your best work, no matter how inspiring your mission may be.” Under Ms. Foreman’s leadership, Houston READ Commission has expanded the scope of its free monthly trainings for literacy providers to include topics as diverse as financial management, human resource compliance, grant writing, and sexual harassment.

Houston READ Commission’s core work is to provide literacy-focused trainings and tools, including distributing best literacy practices manuals to Coalition members throughout the Greater Houston area. In 2011 it organized the First Annual Houston Reading Colloquium, which allowed evidence-based reading research experts to share their knowledge about best practices in helping adult learners to read. Recognizing that many area providers depend on volunteers to help with tutoring, teaching, and administrative work, Houston READ Commission also invests in recruiting, training, and placing volunteers in its Coalition sites and hosts a no-cost Volunteer Symposium each year. Currently the Commission is working with the University of Houston to develop a Preliminary Reader Inventory, which volunteers can use to easily determine where emerging readers need help.

Raising Funds and Resources

In addition to maintaining a steady stream of volunteers and developing a deep understanding of good management practices and evidence-based literacy instruction, literacy providers also depend on resources to keep their doors open. Houston READ Commission addresses this need by offering grants, distributing resources, and assisting in providers’ fundraising efforts. Annually, the Commission distributes $150,000 worth of funding to literacy providers across the Greater Houston area, in the form of Mayor’s Challenge Grants. They also host summer and holiday book drives with the goal to raise at least 50,000 books annually for literacy providers across the area. Coalition members also have access to the Commission’s-own Spanish-English dictionaries, as well as Literacy Powerline’s Resourceline, a literacy resource database and newsletter service. Houston READ Commission even assists Coalition members with writing and reviewing grant applications.

For information about the Houston READ Commission, visit their website, Facebook page, or contact Executive Director Robert Sheri Foreman at (713) 640-8201 or sheri.foreman@houread.org