Q&A: Melissa Nance, Executive Director of Friends of Literacy

Melissa Nance is executive director of Friends of Literacy, which is holding an open house celebration for its new location at 900 E. Hill Ave on April 5 from 5 p.m.-7 p.m.

Will you miss the old location at the former Knoxville High School building?

I will miss the Historic Knoxville High School. It was FOL's home for over 20 years and I wish things would have been different so that we could have stayed. I just hope the new owners take good care of this Knoxville treasure.

What are the biggest demands for literacy education in our area—and how do you attempt to meet them?

In Knoxville one in 12 adults cannot read above a 6th grade level and one of every eight adults lacks a GED or high school diploma. We help these members of our community by offering free GED and reading classes at a variety of locations.

Who attends your programs?

Our Adult Reading students range in age from 21-90 and are from all socio-economic classes. They have somehow learned to navigate a world in which they cannot read. Just imagine what it would be like to not be able to read a prescription bottle, or a recipe—or not be able to help your child with homework.

Is there a basic program you follow or is it client by client?

We have a variety of materials to draw from so that the reading classes can be tailored to meet each students needs.

Have you moved with the times to incorporate Kindle, computers, and social networking?

We dream of having a smartboard and computers for our students but we simply lack the funding. Having to pay rent at this new location and the other costs that go with that for the first time in more than 21 years is going to be quite a challenge. However, we do have an awesome Facebook page that everyone reading this should go "like."

Who is the most unusual person you've served in the past couple years?

The student that stands out the most to me is Rhonda. She was the first female ever to earn a GED while incarcerated at the Knox County Sheriff's Detention Facility. She then went on to become the first woman at the University of Tennessee-Knoxville to become an apprentice electrician. She recently attended volunteer training so that she can help tutor students!

Do you have any standout volunteers?

Yes, at our recent volunteer appreciation luncheon we recognized four volunteers who together had donated more than 3,000 hours.

What's your greatest volunteer need?

We always need volunteer tutors and there is a great need for people who can help with higher level math.

Done any good reading lately?

I am currently reading about the Pacific Northwest as I am planning a trip there this summer. There are so many places I want to visit in the area that I think I could spend a month there.

How can someone who needs FOL find you given that they can't already read?

That is one of our biggest challenges! It's not like we can put an ad in the paper to reach people who cannot read. So we ask ordinary people to spread the word. You never know when you'll touch someone who cannot read themselves, or knows someone who can't read and didn't realize there was free, confidential assistance.

To RSVP for the event, e-mail jennie@friendsofliteracy.org or call 549-7007