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J. Marion Sims Foundation

The Foundation’s mission is to support programs and projects of prevention and education that enhance the health and wellness of the citizens of Lancaster County, Fort Lawn, and Great Falls, SC.

The Adult Literacy and Basic Skills Initiative
It may seem a bit unusual for a foundation whose mission is supporting health and wellness to choose adult literacy and basic skills as the focus area for its first targeted grant making initiative.  However, when the Foundation’s board of trustees engaged in a lengthy and exhaustive strategic planning process that examined a number of community issues and health indicators, the common thread running through all of them – parenting, education, teen pregnancy, unhealthy lifestyle choices, alcohol and drug abuse, domestic violence, health care costs, among others – was an unacceptable rate of adult illiteracy.  The board became aware that these issues do not exist in isolation from each other; they are tightly intertwined. The premise upon which the Foundation’s involvement is based is that a more literate population will, over time, become a healthier population.

Focus Areas of the Initiative
Most adults who are drawn to literacy programming are drawn by a specific need; i.e., increasing their skills for job readiness or advancement, increasing their skills to help other family members (usually children) learn, or increasing their skills to better manage their own or someone’s else’s health.  The Foundation’s initiative is organized around these areas. Proposals were requested in three primary focus areas:  workplace literacy, family literacy, and health literacy. Citizenship literacy has also been addressed by many of the providers. 

A Collaboration Approach
The Foundation maintained a high level of engagement with its grantees in the initiative, making available technical assistance services and holding quarterly meetings. The quarterly meetings served to bring the programs together for sharing information, training, learning from one another’s experiences, and fostering a sense of cooperation rather than of competition. This collaborative spirit formed the basis for a formal structured organization of the literacy provides now known as the Lancaster Area Literacy Cooperati

The Cooperative members work together to eliminate need in the community, grow at a carefully planned rate, improve services over time, and maintain funding from diverse sources. A collaborative approach makes economic sense and allows for greater building of capacity to serve additional learners.

Potential community-wide, long term advantages of the collaborative approach include:Increased quality of life
Increased employment levels
Higher wages and less poverty
Increased self sufficiency
Increases in community value for education for all
Lower recidivism and a decreased crime rate
Decreased dependence on governmental support to individuals
A community-wide partnership dedicated to high literacy achievement
The J. Marion Sims Foundation facilitated the creation of the Lancaster Area Literacy Cooperative as a way to focus energy on promoting greater community ownership of literacy as a key issue and establishing a coordinated system of literacy service delivery that will long outlive the Foundation’s initial support.

The Lancaster Area Literacy Cooperative has become a 501 (c) (3) tax-exempt organization. Its mission is to promote cooperation within an integrated framework of literacy providers by providing an effective forum for advocacy, sharing resources and expertise, and facilitating sustainability of programs. Currently thirteen member organizations that provide literacy services make up the membership of the Lancaster Area Literacy Cooperative. They are as follows:

Non-profit Community Organizations
Lancaster County Literacy Council
Chester County Literacy Council
Lancaster Housing Authority
Communities in Schools of Lancaster
The Children's Council
Multi-Cultural Information Center
Fort Lawn Community Center

USC Research Foundation
York Technical College Foundation
Brooklyn Springs Elementary

Faith- Base
Christian Services of Lancaster
Faith, Hope & Victory Church
Deliverance Word of Faith Church 

These providers have established collaborative partnerships with 225 additional community partners. The types of partners include the following:

Governmental Agencies
Community Organizations
Law Enforcement
Educational Institutions

Significant Outputs & Outcomes
Community service hours: 23,882
Total hours of instruction:166,359
Number of GEDs earned: 116
Number of juvenile offenders and at-risk students avoiding incarceration: 293
Number of volunteers: 1,089
Volunteer hours:182,589

Economic Impact
In addition to learning gains and social impacts on individuals, families, neighborhoods, and communities the initiative has also made an economic impact. The following sample of estimated dollar values serves as a measuring tool for various services and outcomes, providing a sense of that impact.

Quick Facts:
Funding awarded to programs from sources other than the Foundation: $3,670,359
In-kind contributions to programs: $3,007,373
Value of volunteer time: $3,387,026 1
Value of students’ community service time: $443,011 2
Value of books distributed by programs: $62,970 3
Savings from return of children to families from foster care: $1,874,880 4
Savings from juvenile offenders/at-risk students avoiding incarceration: $21,082,815 5
Additional earnings for holders of GEDs/diplomas: $14,268,000 6
       Total estimated economic impact: $48, 509, 285 7

Best Practices used by Collaborative Literacy Providers
JMSF funded programs that used research-based practices and strategies. Some of the best practices used by the cooperative literacy providers include but are not limited to strategies in the following:

  • Auditory and visual processing skills and listening skills strategies
  • Higher order thinking skills strategies
  • Decision-making skills strategies
  • Writing across the content areas strategies
  • Employability skills strategies
  • Individual and group tutoring
  • Application and on- the- job workplace literacy training
  • Mentoring
  • Computer assisted learning using researched based literacy software
  • Using graphic and semantic organizers
  • Guided practice
  • Cooperative learning
  • Multiple-strategy instruction
  • Demonstration and practice strategies
  • Provide parental training, workshops and resources
  • Provide appropriate reading materials for adult learners
  • Provide teachers with intensive professional development in  literacy instruction  that works  for their target populations


Lessons Learned
There are no easy answers, no quick fixes, no one-size-fits-all template for addressing adult illiteracy.

  • It takes a long time to change a culture.  Expect, understand, and prepare for a lengthy process.
  • Prepare to be surprised … expect the unexpected. You quite possibly will find resources and the beginnings of answers in unlikely places.
  • We’re learning more about evaluation.  It’s important to fully define evaluation processes (individually for grantees and corporately for the initiative as a whole) on the front end.  The same holds true for goals for the initiative – know what it is that you want to accomplish and achieve agreement among the key stakeholders.
  • Insist that programs have staff qualified to achieve their goals.
  • Understand that literacy programming doesn’t occur in isolation.  It is influenced by a host of societal factors and life circumstances.  Given the target populations involved, effective literacy programming involves more than developing skills, it involves a holistic approach that addresses the needs of the whole person.
  • Collaborative partnerships have enormous impact but they cannot and should not be forced.


For more information about the J. Marion Sims Foundation’s Adult Literacy and Basic Skills Initiative see our Three Year and Sixth Year Reviews under Resources on our website at or contact:

James T. Morton, President

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