GRAND RAPIDS — The Kent County Literacy Council is already seeing results from its recent poster campaign.
The council is a nonprofit agency housed within the Grand Rapids Public Library that since 1986 has provided free training for functionally illiterate adults through its Adult Tutoring Program. This program operates through one-on-one and small group tutoring and also has a speakers bureau.
Funded primarily through corporate and individual charity, these services are delivered through a league of volunteer tutors. Last year, more than 250 volunteers served over 450 students.
In past years, the council has also operated a fee-based Customized Workplace English Program, providing English as a Second Language training tailored to the business community.
Founded with two goals in mind, the council has done well with the first, helping individuals to improve their reading and language skills; but the second, increasing community awareness of the benefits of literacy and the problem of illiteracy, has proved much harder.
“We wanted greater awareness in the community about our work and the benefits of literacy,” said Susan Ledy, the council’s executive director.
Nearly a year ago, Ledy met Bill Pfaff, a 45-year veteran of the communications industry who served as vice president and creative director at Marsteller Advertising in New York City before “retiring” to a life of freelance work in Grand Rapids.
“He was intrigued by what we did and the impact we were having in the community and in helping adults learn to read,” Ledy recalled. “He wanted to help us get our message out, and he had this idea to get posters out in the community to attract volunteers and contributions to the program, and to get the word out on our customized workplace program.”
Keeping with the volunteer spirit of the organization, Pfaff pulled together nearly a dozen local businesses to volunteer their time and services on a four-poster campaign that would promote equally the Adult Tutoring Program and Customized Workplace Program.
“I saw an opportunity to pull together members of the communications community to achieve a desired result,” Pfaff said. “Literacy is at the core of communications. We wanted to increase opportunities within the Literacy Council for businesses and individuals, and I suspected all of these people might be willing to help.”
Green Frog Photo photographers Jeff Hage, Jeff Huyck, Paul Gobble and Chris Schneiter provided images for the first two posters — a book page turning and Scrabble board pieces — while Mark Bird of Bird Design and illustrator Jody Williams produced the images for the second two posters, both avant garde designs promoting the workplace program.
Group eX provided concept and product management, while The Wordsmiths donated media advice and support. Custom Printers printed one set of posters; Commercial Printing was responsible for the others.
Quimby-Walstrom provided the paper at a reduced rate.
The majority of the 8,000 posters were delivered within the Grand Rapids Business Journal. News Web Printing Services donated the folding and inserting within GRBJ.
“We didn’t have the manpower to deliver it to all the various businesses,” Pfaff said. “We started thinking of who went into all the places we wanted to go, and we thought of the Business Journal.”
Since the posters have been on display within the community, the council has received a number of volunteers who learned of the opportunity through the campaign. There have also been new contributions and many calls concerning the workplace program.
“It’s phenomenal to me that everybody donated their time and resources,” Ledy said. “All of the services and creativity were donated, the paper was donated, the mailing — just all in the name of getting the word out.”
According to the National Institute for Literacy, 14 percent of adults in Kent County and 21 percent of adults in Grand Rapids cannot ready everyday materials such as newspapers, medicine bottles and mail — or even read to a child.