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Welcome to our history! As we celebrate 50 years of changing lives, one at a time, we want to share our story.
We’ve featured just a few students and volunteers, to give a flavor of the variety, commitment, and talent that have made us who we are. They represent the hundreds who have been part of our history.We’ve noted some significant events and some that are less so. You’ll find celebrated milestones and maybe even shed a tear or two.We’re incredibly proud of our story and the people who made it happen. Enjoy.

The History of Literacy Volunteers of Bangor


The background

In the 1960s, change was in the air. There were flower children and Woodstock, but more lasting societal changes underlay our founding. The Civil Rights movement made people aware of minority rights. Vietnam protests popularized grass-roots activism. The women’s movement was gaining strength. As a result of Vatican II, Catholics..Read More


Ruth Colvin, the pioneer

Ruth Colvin with a refrigerator full of books

Ruth Colvin knew from the 1960 census that low literacy was a problem in New York state. She researched the issue and began working with faculty at Syracuse University to develop learning materials for adults. She was influenced by Frank Laubach’s “Each One Teach One” program. She started America’s first adult literacy program, calling it..Read More

April 1969

Our founders, Sister and Agnes

Smiling Sister Benigna looking at Alice Beckwith

Agnes Beckwith was a 72-year old Baptist from Lamoine. Sister Mary Benigna was a 63-year old Roman Catholic nun. They were both retired teachers who believed in helping people, and they made Literacy Volunteers happen in Maine. The national Church Women United had taken on adult literacy as a cause. The Bangor CWU group tagged Sister..Read More

May 12, 1969

Wilfred Levesque, the first student

Winfred Levesque with Agnes Beckwith

Wilfred Levesque could eyeball a woodlot and tell you the value of the harvested wood. He was a hard worker who carried the Bangor Daily News around with him. Few people knew he couldn’t read it. He signed his name with an X. In May 1969, this 60-something sat down..Read More


Paula Adelman, the first president

Paula Adelman in an office

“A mother was holding a child and looking at a medicine bottle, and she couldn’t read. ‘Do I give a teaspoon? A tablespoon? A cup?’ Oh, my God – she could kill this child because she couldn’t read. I was hooked.” That’s how Paula Adelman describes the photo that prompted..Read More

1969-70sEarly tutor training

Early tutor training

Group of tutors with books

Tutor training was held in various venues donated by organizations, including the YWCA, the Bangor Public Library, and, later, the Bangor Daily News. At first, the focus was on basic literacy. Before long, as immigrants’ needs became clear, a strand for English Language Learning was developed. Then, as now, tutoring..Read More

Late 1970s-now

Kara Schreiber, volunteer

Kara Schreiber portrait

“I did almost everything at some point,” says Kara Schreiber of her 40+ years with Literacy Volunteers.​ It began when she was 21 and looking for a part-time job. She was at the employment center when a woman interrupted to ask the advisor Kara was talking to how to read..Read More

1979: The tenth anniversary

A birthday party

Cake: "Happy Birthday Literacy Volunteers"

Literacy Volunteers celebrated its 10th birthday in 1979.​ There were still just a handful of volunteers and students meeting in borrowed space. The YMCA paid for a statewide telephone hotline that was operated by a volunteer out of her home in Augusta. Wally Amos, of Famous Amos Cookies, came to help celebrate the anniversary and..Read More

The 1980s

The 1980s

Events of the 1980s affected our society. The AIDS/HIV crisis​ loomed large. “Boat people,” refugees from Viet Nam, arrived in large numbers​. Home computers began inching into America’s households at the forefront of huge technology changes. President George H.W. Bush stressed volunteerism. Literacy Volunteers slowly evolved. Low student numbers meant a need to..Read More

Early 1980s

Charlotte England, volunteer

Charlotte England portrait

“We met in the basement of the Bangor Library. Joe was self-employed and repaired cars at his home. He bought used cars, took them apart and sold used parts. Math and memory were his strengths. He wanted to learn how to record sales.” ​​ Joe was Charlotte England’s first student,..Read More


Ed Boucher, student and spokesperson

Ed Boucher speaks at a lectern

“Knowing how to read is the difference between night and day. It feels nice to get up in the morning and read the paper,” Ed Boucher says.​ ​Ed had been a non-reader for most of his 40-year working life. He was a heavy equipment operator who found clever ways to avoid reading..Read More

February 1983

Barbara Bush supported literacy

Barbara Bush speaking at a lectern

In 1983, Governor Jock McKernan declared February 18-19 Literacy Volunteers Week. Barbara Bush, then the wife of the Vice-President, came to Bangor. Literacy Volunteers hosted a tea at the Isaac Farrar Mansion.                       “Everything I worried about”—crime, hunger, poverty—”would be better if more people could read, write..Read More


Raising awareness locally

Raffle booth with canoe at the Bangor Mall

In the early 1980s, the Bangor branch of Literacy Volunteers of America was still a small group of volunteers with minimal funding and low student numbers. Leaders saw the need for a concentrated effort to improve public awareness of low literacy. Events and publicity could raise money while also reaching..Read More


“Jane,” student

Clip art: woman reading book

Jane has asked us not to use her real name or photo. Like many basic literacy students, she had a lifetime of shame and fear about revealing her poor reading skills. Yet she is a shining example of what such people can achieve. “It would be a miracle happening,” Jane said. She..Read More


Carolyn Hart Thompson, volunteer and coordinator

Carolyn Hart Thompson in the 1980s

When she was in school, Carolyn Hart Thompson remembers, she saw a boy in the 6th grade sobbing. He had to sit in the back of the class because he could not read. Terribly upset, she remembers thinking that no child should have to be ashamed of what he just can’t do.​ ​..Read More


Media focus on literacy

Newspaper headline, "Literacy and You"

Media and celebrities were particularly notable supporters of literacy in the 1980s and 90s.​​ A 1992 Bangor Daily News supplement, “Literacy and You” included articles by students, explaining how Literacy Volunteers had changed their lives. It also provided advice to parents on how to support their children’s literacy and where to find help. ​​ The BDN..Read More

The 1990s

The 1990s

The 1990s saw major international and national events. The First Gulf War​ began the involvement of the U.S. in Iraq and nearby countries. The Soviet Union collapsed.​ The first school massacre took place in Columbine, Colorado, and acts of domestic terrorism took place in Oklahoma City and at the Atlanta..Read More


Family Literacy

Families gathered on steps

If you can get children excited about reading, you can also attract their parents. That was Literacy Volunteers’ adult student recruitment strategy in the 90s when it started the after-school program at Park Woods Transitional Housing, part of the Capehart housing community. ​​ On Tuesdays and Thursdays after school, volunteers and kids read..Read More


Barbara Kates, coordinator

Barbara Kates portrait

“I made sure I was the one who talked with people who came for help,” says Barbara Kates. “Almost always they came because their life was in crisis. I knew the risks they were taking by admitting they could not read. I wanted to be sure they would feel safe, and I wanted to connect them..Read More


Mary Hunter, student

Mary Hunter playing trumpet

Mary Hunter began working with a tutor in the 1990s and is still part of one of our book clubs. In 2016, when she was 92, she was invited to give a talk at Celebration Night. She brought small homemade gifts for everyone and gave the following speech: I was..Read More


Lai Liu Lam, student

Lai Lam at a lectern

“She was like a sponge, spending most of her day studying. I had a difficult time keeping up with her.” That’s tutor Judy Rudman, talking about Lai Lam. There was a good reason for her devotion to learning. ​ Lai says that you become a better person when you can understand more. And for that..Read More


Student activities

Students at desks in conversation

Under one name or another, there have been book clubs and student conversation groups since at least the 1980s.  ​“New Beginnings” and “SOAR—Students of Adult Reading”–flourished in the 1980s and 90s. The Bangor Public Library often hosted. The groups also enjoyed occasional meals and other events.​​ Today’s version is the book club New Books, New Readers, sponsored by the Maine Humanities..Read More


The 2000s

The September 2001 attack on the World Trade Center began the new era of the “War on Terrorism.” Hurricane Katrina​ devastated the Gulf Coast. “Big box” stores like Wal-Mart and online shopping for music (iTunes) began changing how we shop. We elected the first African-American president, and Nancy Pelosi became..Read More


Mary Marin Lyon: big changes

Mary Marin Lyon portrait

In 2002, Literacy Volunteers of America merged with Laubach Literacy International to become ProLiteracy Worldwide. Local chapters became more autonomous. Our name changed to Literacy Volunteers of Bangor instead of Literacy Volunteers of America-Bangor. ​​ In 2003, Mary Marin Lyon became our Executive Director. She inherited an organization that, for a variety of reasons, was in trouble. There..Read More


Christine Chou, student, tutor, mentor

Christine Chou portrait

​“Why not go somewhere and learn something new?” might be Christine Chou’s slogan. The owner of several Chinese restaurants over the years, she has many interests including international travel, Irish and belly dancing, and writing. Energy and spirit​​ You hear that spirit of adventure underlying every chapter of Christine’s life story. From Taiwan, she came..Read More


Steve Scalese, student

Steve Scalese, student

If you’re driving around the Greater Bangor area, you may see a car with a sign on the door: “Ask me about Literacy Volunteers.” Steve Scalese is our informal ambassador-at-large and a testament to our mission: improving lives one at a time. He began as a student 16 years ago and has been involved ever since​. Steve was one of..Read More


Phil Locke and Hoang Lam

Phil Locke, Hoang Lam in cap and gown

“If they made me pay to do tutoring,” says tutor Phil Locke, “I would pay—gladly.”​​ Phil really means that; he puts in as many as 300 hours a year. Now in his 14th year, he began tutoring after he retired from teaching math at the University of Maine. He has a..Read More


Janet Speranza-Moran, volunteer

Janet Speranza-Moran

“It’s been an interesting journey,” says Janet Speranza-Moran, reflecting on her 13 years with Literacy Volunteers.​​ Janet currently volunteers on the Communications Committee. Bringing her business experience to bear—she’s co-owner of The Bedworks of Maine—she’s been the chief creator of our public service announcements on television.​​ To get started, she analyzed PSAs from other literacy groups. “I found..Read More


The 2010s

The Affordable Care Act extended insurance to most Americans. The Tea Party and Occupy movements signaled political shifts in the U.S. Osama bin Laden was killed, but ISIS became a terrorist threat in the Middle East. Cell phones became a major means of communication. Literacy Volunteers of Bangor moved to..Read More


New office, new logo

Office building

By 2015, we had already updated our logo to celebrate our vision of a bright future. Now we moved into a new office on the Eastern Maine Community College campus. It was both a practical and a symbolic move. We began in 1969 with no office. Later, the Bangor Public..Read More


Brendan Trainor, volunteer

Brendan Trainor portrait

When you think of Literacy Volunteers, you probably think of tutors. But many volunteers fill other roles. Brendan Trainor is one example.​​ “There is nothing political or religious about literacy,” says Brendan, so it’s a great opportunity for young professionals to get involved in their community. Brendan is an Assistant District Attorney who served..Read More


Richie Allen, student

Richie Allen reading

Richie Allen quit school at 16. He’s worked all his life at jobs he enjoyed, but they didn’t require much reading. His wife saw to any tasks that required reading and writing, so he didn’t see any particular need to read himself. Nor was he especially interested in reading. “I..Read More


Cindy Duell, student

Cindy Duell with microphone

“After you tell somebody for so long that they’re dumb, they believe it.” Cindy Duell believed that she was dumb. She struggled in school, got no encouragement or help, and was  passed along from grade to grade. She memorized to get by and learned to hate red ink: “You look..Read More


Celebrating students

Celebrating students

From the very beginning, Literacy Volunteers has been about students. Students decide what skills to work on and when they’ve met their goals. With their tutors, they decide where and when to meet and help choose the learning materials. And we all celebrate their successes. Celebration events have been part..Read More



Fifty years after our founding, Literacy Volunteers of Bangor is strong and solid.​​ We serve over 300 students annually with a corps of well over 300 volunteers. We provide a select list of services to meet local needs:​ Basic Literacy tutors​ English Language Learning tutors​ English Language Partners, who meet for chats with new..Read More


Congratulations from the pioneer

Ruth Colvin founded Literacy Volunteers of America 57 years ago. At 102, she is still active, and she sent us a congratulatory video. Watch it here.

Today and always

Thank you! Donors, students, volunteers, you

We’re thankful to so many people! Our donors. They make it happen. Without federal or state funding, we depend entirely on the generosity of individuals and foundations. And they are generous!​​ Whether they give cash donations or in-kinds goods or services, we’re grateful. Our donors make our community stronger through improved adult literacy when they support us! Our students. Hundreds of..Read More