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Nonprofit Helps Adults Gain Literacy Skills

Adult literacy programs

Did you know that more than 35 million adults in the United States cannot read or write beyond a third grade level? Worldwide, that number rises to nearly 775 million illiterate adults and 123 million illiterate children and teens – about 15% of the total population. Illiteracy is often considered a problem of the past, but the reality is that it is still a roadblock for millions of people here in the U.S. and across the world. Thankfully, there are a number of amazing nonprofits that work to reverse these statistics, and provide literacy programs to children, students, and adults. One such program, Seeds of Literacy in Ohio, helps adult learners gain the literacy skills needed to thrive in life.


Seeds of Literacy began 19 years ago as “a ministry of The Sisters of the Congregation of St. Joseph, a Catholic order of nuns,” explains Jo Steigerwald, development officer with the organization. In 2005, Seeds became a separate 501(c)3 company, and received accreditation from the national ProLiteracycampaign.

“This award-winning, innovative adult literacy program relies on individualized curricula and one-to-one tutoring to help students who have not succeeded in traditional school settings,” says Steigerwald. Seeds of Literacy offers free basic education and GED® preparation to about 1,000 adults annually. Their official GED pass rate is currently 87% – higher than the state rate of 67%. The program continues to grow, and their impact on the Cleveland community is undeniable. They credit their success to their amazing volunteers and tutors who make connections with the community on a daily basis.


Seeds was awarded a $6500 NobleCause grant because they are an incredible example of cultivating volunteerism to bring lasting change to their community. According to Steigerwald, the NobleCause grant will help them expand volunteer recruitment efforts for the organization. “We rely on and trust in our volunteers to the utmost! We have only 11 paid staff [members], but are helped by about 280 active volunteers and tutors. This dynamic combo helps bring adult education to about 1,000 students a year.”

Seeds of Literacy recently opened a second location, Seeds East, in a neighborhood “where 85% of the adult residents are considered to be functionally illiterate, which means they have reading and math skills at or below a 4th grade level,” Steigerwald explains. Residents have been asking for this expansion for some time, but Seeds needed more volunteers and tutors in order to meet the demand. With the help of the grant, these classes are filling up (both in students and tutors)!


Today, students like Yoko Ferrell are making a difference in their own lives with the help of Seeds East tutors and volunteers. Ferrell is in her late twenties, a mother of two, and a regular student in the program. Ferrell grew up in Florida and moved to Cleveland when she was nine. Before the move, she had enjoyed school. In middle school, however, she felt unfocused and retreated into a shell of shyness. Her high school closed at the end of her 9th grade year, and she never really adjusted to her new school. Ferrell dropped out in the 10th grade and got a job.

I want to show my kids that they can do anything. And, I can’t wait to see my children’s faces when I walk across the stage after finishing my GED.

— Yoko Ferrell

She attended three other GED programs before Seeds. All were classroom-based, and Ferrell felt like she was just following the instructor, rather than learning. A friend, also a Seeds student, told her about the program. Within months, Ferrell began to make great progress towards receiving her GED.

“Seeds is different,” Ferrell explains. “It’s so calm here, and people are serious about their work. As soon as you walk in, you know you are going to learn something! And the tutors are willing to sit with you and help you learn. Even if it takes you 20 times before you get it, they’ll be there, right at your side.”

Seeds is helping hundreds of students just like Ferrell with their certified literacy tutors and volunteers. Without them, the program’s reach would be minimal.


According to ProLiteracy, children of parents with low literacy skills have a 72% chance of struggling with literacy themselves. This is one more reason why Seeds is determined to influence their adult students’ lives and improve literacy levels; it’s not just for them, it’s for their children, too.

Students at Seeds East, like Ferrell, are gaining the skills they need for their own success, as well as their children’s. Ferrell says her greatest accomplishment is her new ability to help her children, ages nine and eleven, with homework. “We sit down together, spend time learning, and aren’t afraid. I want to show my kids that they can do anything. And, I can’t wait to see my children’s faces when I walk across the stage after finishing my GED.”


Steigerwald says the NobleCause grant will be used to propel Seeds through 2017. They hope to grow their Seeds East volunteers by 10%. The funds will also help their volunteer coordinator reach out to congregations and faith communities that have shown interest in the program. Area colleges and universities will also be contacted in an effort to grow opportunities for the students and staff at Seeds East. With even more volunteers, Seeds can continue to add classes and services that will provide even more opportunities for the Cleveland community.

Seeds of Literacy helps adult students gain the skills they need to compete in the job market and succeed in life. Ferrell recently walked across the stage with her GED and is a shining example of what a literacy program like Seeds can do for the community. If you would like to support Seeds of Literacy, please donate here.

Do you want to volunteer with meaningful organizations in your community? Find service opportunities in your area with NobleHour.

The NobleCause grants, organized by, were made possible by an anonymous donor within the GiveWell Community Foundation, which serves Polk County, FL. The NobleCause grant competition, launched in 2015, invited high schools, school districts, colleges and universities, and nonprofits to identify and address a local challenge and to recruit and enrich the social responsibility of volunteers. 100 organizations were awarded $6,500 grants, while seven exemplary organizations were recognized at the $50,000 level. is dedicated to using NobleCause to increase volunteerism that raises awareness at the local level and develops community members who can take action.

Since 2007, NobleHour has proven to be the volunteer management solution for organizations across the nation. With its robust online platform, NobleHour enhances community engagement with a variety of innovative and transformative tools for finding, tracking, and measuring volunteer, service‐learning, and community service initiatives. With offices in Lakeland, FL, and Portland, OR, the NobleHour team is dedicated to empowering good in communities across the country.

By NobleHour Special Contributor:

Latasha Doyle
Consultant, NobleHour
Contributing Writer
Denver, Colorado

Latasha Doyle is a writer and long term care volunteer living outside of Denver, Colorado. When she’s not writing or volunteering, she enjoys crocheting, Netflix marathons, and planning her next trip.