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Lake Wales Family Literacy Coalition
An Initiative of The Family Literacy Academy of Lake Wales

About Sponsoring Agency/Organization:

Serving Lake Wales (Polk County) and the surrounding areas, the Academy’s family literacy program works to remove educational barriers and maintain a literacy focus for the entire family. Each participating family includes at least one parent or caregiver requiring adult basic education or GED training and one child between the ages of birth and third grade.
Volunteer mentors/tutors work closely with families to meet their goals. In addition, current enrollees mentor and support new participants. The program is supported by a Community-based Family Literacy Coalition which is the focus of this profile.

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Description of Project:

The mission of the Lake Wales Family Literacy Coalition is to improve community awareness of the educational and related socioeconomic conditions in the community, support the Family Literacy Academy and design strategies to minimize or eliminate identified impediments.

The Coalition is made up of 66 members representing the business community, schools, colleges, social service agencies, government and civic organizations, faith based organizations and other community stakeholders.  The Executive Director of The Academy serves as coordinator. Meetings are held monthly.  Members are regularly advised of events, activities and other relevant developments via email. Members are encouraged to share this communication, thus linking a large percentage of the community who belong to groups and organizations.

At each meeting, members are briefed on the status and progress of the Academy; opportunity is given for members to provide guidance and support for the Academy.   The remainder of each meeting is dedicated to a theme or community issue relating to or impacting the acquisition of literacy skills such as drug education and enforcement, health care, housing, unemployment, and summer educational programs.  Opportunity is given for member organizations to share information about their programs, with discussion of potential areas for collaboration and cooperation.

The Coalition has subcommittees that work to address several key areas.  These include affordable housing, economic development, employment skills and early childhood development.  The Coalition also seeks out partnership opportunities with groups interested in addressing issues related to education and poverty and have worked in this regard with the Chamber of Commerce and Kiwanis and Rotary Club.

Project Rationale and Background:

Lake Wales is a small community serving as a commercial and educational center for a largely rural, agricultural area where 41% of the residents live at or below the poverty level and 34% of the residents do not have a high school diploma. 

The Coalition was established in 2005 to support the Family Literacy Academy and the families they served. Organizers recognized the need to develop an expansive community support system and therefore sought to include a broad cross section of participants. Reaching beyond the role of a traditional advisory board, the Coalition wanted to take a holistic approach by providing a community wide forum for identifying and addressing a range of barriers that impede literacy development.


As an entity, the Coalition has no decision making powers or responsibilities.  Rather, the concept is that the communities comes together, identifies problems, seeks common solutions and, as a group, decide how to implement group-made decisions.

When the idea of the Coalition was first discussed, there were some established groups with historical roles in education and related areas which seemed concerned that the Coalition may pose a threat to their traditional role or jurisdiction.   A few wondered if it would be possible, in a diverse and not easy-to-unify community, to get people to accomplish what the Coalition proposed.  Some simply did not understand the extent of the poverty and illiteracy affected the community. Others were concerned that public exposure of those facts may negatively impact economic development.

The Lake Wales community is largely poor with a large percentage of retirees.   Many of those individuals and organizations already involved in community service were very busy.  The Coalition organizers had to convince these individuals that the mission was both worthy and possible, and that by collectively addressing these issues, the Coalition could help individuals and organizations in accomplishing their missions.   The whole is bigger than the parts.

It took time to put a practice like this in place, and once in place, it required continued diligence in moving forward. That meant more effort in communicating with individuals and groups which was found to be time well spent.

Evidence of Impact and Effectiveness:

Coalition organizers are confident that their efforts have helped to raise awareness in the community around issues of literacy and poverty.  There is an increased pride and confidence in what the Coalition is doing.  Coalition and community members have responded with a wide range of support for the Family Literacy Academy and its students.  This includes increased financial contributions, the coordination of a benefit pancake breakfast and a grant from the City of Lake Wales. The in-kind support facilitated by the Coalition has been substantial, including new volunteers and donations of children’s books, school supplies and groceries for families. The Coalition also helps Academy families access government services in areas such as housing, transportation, vocational training and job placement.  Polk State College has generously provided scholarships to participating parents and the Coalition has plans to expand upon this effort by raising funds to provide additional scholarship opportunities.

These efforts have contributed to enhanced school performance by participating children and a substantial number of adults gaining their GED, going to college or obtaining better jobs. With the Coalition’s support, the Academy has tripled in size since its inception, serving 60 families in 2009.

Cost and Funding:

Funding has been provided through the main grants and contributions to the Family Literacy Academy. These include the Volunteer USA Foundation, Polk State College, member organization and individual contributions.  There is no separate budget for the Coalition, but rather it is considered a cost of doing business for the Family Literacy Academy. 
The largest cost factor in the Coalition’s effort has been time—approximately 25% of the Academy Executive Director’s time and time of others in coordinating meetings, keeping it going, and keeping members informed.  Most incidentals (room location, advertisement, food for breakfast meetings, materials) have been donated.  

All members and efforts of the Coalition, other than the Executive Director, are strictly on a volunteer basis.  Any contributions made by virtue of the Coalition’s efforts are used to provide direct services to the families of the Family Literacy Academy.

Words of Advice:

From Deming Cowles:

The Coalition has been a vital part of gaining community support for what we want to accomplish with the Family Literacy Academy.  It is a method of pulling one’s community together to work together in identifying and resolving community needs for education and other services.  Particularly in these difficult economic times, education is paramount in developing individual and community wide economic improvement.  Without widespread acknowledgement of community issues and without widespread community support,   efforts at improving education and poverty will falter.  Invoking individual and organization support throughout the community makes it possible to effect positive change for the long term good of a community.  Hard work and the help of enlightened individuals make this one of the most rewarding things any of us can do

Contact Information:

Deming Cowles

The Family Literacy Academy of Lake Wales is an LLC of Volunteer USA Foundation in partnership with Polk State College.





.Florida Literacy Coalition
..235 Maitland Ave. S #102

Maitland, FL 32751
..Phone: (407)-246-7110
..Fax: (407)-246 - 7104

Florida Literacy Hotline
(800) - 237 - 5113