Knowledge is Power

by Apr 30, 2020Education, Nonprofits, South Brunswick

Brunswick County Literacy Council matches volunteers with people who want to learn new skills, from English as a Second Language to financial literacy to earning their GED.

When some of us travel to places where we don’t speak the language of that country, we get along just fine because we are with other English-speaking travelers and are being shepherded around by an English-speaking guide. The guide interprets the road signs, explains the country’s currency, tells us how to pay to use the restroom and translates the dinner menu. But imagine for a moment that that was not the case.

Imagine being alone in that country with no guide and no one who understands you. It would be frightening and possibly even dangerous. But that is what some people here in our country, in our state and in our county have to endure every day. They can’t read directions or a prescription or food labels or warning signs or transportation schedules. They can’t make themselves be understood by anyone because gesturing and pantomiming can go only so far. Luckily for these people, and others who need help to reach their individual goals, there is a place where they can get help and support from a well-trained, caring group of extraordinary volunteers.

They can contact the Brunswick County Literacy Council on Highway 17 in Supply and talk with Program Coordinator Sue Railing, who will schedule a visit for an assessment. Next they will be matched up with a tutor, depending on their particular needs and goals.


Brunswick County Literacy Council provides individual help and support not only for reading, but also for conversational language skills, writing, financial literacy, math and basic computer skills. They will soon offer health literacy classes in partnership with New Hope Clinic. Each student’s program is designed to meet his or her specific needs and goals. Some are working toward getting their GED, while others want to be able to communicate more easily with their neighbors and customers and still others want to learn how to write a resume and fill out a job application.

The GED program for those incarcerated in the county jail has been a huge success. To date 19 inmates have earned their GED, and not one of them has been re-arrested. Literacy Council Executive Director Dot Hoerr tells a wonderful story about a young man who finished his GED preparation and took his final test on a Friday, the day before he was released from jail. The following Monday he found out he had passed it and that afternoon, with his GED results in hand, he interviewed for a job at a local restaurant and got it. The council plans to offer life/employment coaching to inmates to help them get a job. This course will include how to write a resume, apply for a job and prepare for the interview.

There are currently 12 volunteers who tutor at the jail. Each one meets with their student twice a week for two hours. As one volunteer put it, “It’s easy to schedule the sessions because they are a captive audience.” The length of time it takes to prepare for the GED tests varies from 30 days to several months, but however long it takes, the tutor and student stick with it until they are successful.


Other graduates of the GED program have become a certified nursing assistant (CNA), an airport baggage handler, a business owner and a Walmart associate, to name a few. One even secured the credentials to open a day care in her home. Another success story concerns a number of immigrants who studied with a tutor to pass their citizenship test, and they are now proud U.S. citizens.

The council’s newest program is in support of the state’s recent mandate that all schools offer a program for financial literacy. To comply with this request, Brunswick County has chosen to adopt the FDIC program called “Money Smart.” This is being rolled out at West Brunswick High School first, with the other county high schools to follow next year.

Fortuitously, Michael Ciemniki, a career adult trainer, retired last December and now teaches the “Money Smart” program in WBHS. He hopes to take it to the county’s detention center soon. According to Ciemniki, the program is about learning to budget money, set up a checking account, get a loan, manage a credit card and understand bank fees, like the price you pay for a bounced check or overdrawing your account. The program stresses paying yourself first to emphasize the importance of saving money. The module is taught in a series of five sessions during homeroom time. Ciemniki personalizes the FDIC curriculum by giving examples of banking mistakes that he, his friends or his two sons have made. This is a popular approach as it signals to students that we all make mistakes and we do recover from them.


In addition to teaching and tutoring in all of these subjects, Brunswick County Literacy Council also partners with other organizations to distribute books to qualifying children and adults. Last December they partnered with Brunswick Family Assistance (BFA) for their Toys for Tots program. Each child received a bag containing toys as well as age-appropriate books for them and an adult book for qualifying senior citizens. Last year more than 1,200 children and adults received books through this program.

This year the council will partner with the Friends of the Library Southport & Oak Island (FOLSOI) to supply books for their Holiday Book Share. As FOLSOI President Diana Fotinatos says, “We are partnering with the Literacy Council for their Holiday Book Share for 2020, and will be one of their suppliers for that project. It’s a win-win — they get great books at incredible savings for an important literacy initiative, and they support the libraries by purchasing those books from the FOLSOI bookstore.”

The council has a large group of dedicated volunteers; however, they would like to have even more. Hoerr says top on her wishlist is to have a substitute pool like school teachers have. Then when a tutor is out of town or unable to keep his or her scheduled time, a substitute would be available to take over.

A popular misconception is that if you are going to tutor a student in English as a Second Language (ESL), you should be bilingual. In actuality, being bilingual can be a disadvantage because there is no temptation to slip into their native tongue if you can’t speak it. Kathy Edgell tutors two students in ESL. One is from Thailand, and Edgell speaks no Thai. No problem. This student learned English well enough to get her N.C. Driver’s License and is now continuing her sessions with Edgell to improve her conversational skills. Edgell is also teaching her how to interpret what she calls our “lazy speech.” That is her name for the words we slur together, like “gonna,” and slang like “gotcha,” neither of which is likely to be found in a Thai/English dictionary.

Funds to make all this possible come from grants, fundraisers and donations from community organizations and individuals. The council hosts two major fundraisers a year — a golf tournament in September at Carolina National Golf Club in Winding River and an adult spelling bee and silent auction in May at Brunswick County College’s Virginia Williamson Event Center.

Can you help?
Kathy Edgell was motivated to become a volunteer because she felt that “If you can’t read, it’s a lonely world.” If you feel as she does and would like to help someone overcome that loneliness by becoming a volunteer, contact Brunswick County Literacy Council at (910) 754-7323 or email them at If you would like to make a donation to support their programs, please visit their website at

31st Annual Brunswick County Literacy Council Adult Spelling Bee
Get together a spelling team and compete or come to watch the fun. Either way, be sure to bid on items in the silent auction. There is a $250 entry fee for teams, and admission is free for spectators.
Tuesday, May 5, 6 p.m.
BCC Virginia Williamson Event Center
150 College Road NC, Bolivia
(910) 754-7323

Editor’s Note: Due to COVID-19, please contact the Brunswick Literacy Council before participating or attending the 31st Annual Adult Spelling Bee.