Established in 1973, Literacy Partners is a New York City-based nonprofit focused on strengthening families through literacy. To celebrate a milestone birthday--50 years!--PW spoke to the organization's Chief Executive Officer, Anthony Tassi, about the group's roots in America's social-justice and anti-poverty movements, the different programs it offers, and some of the people whose lives it has impacted.

Congratulations on your 50th anniversary! Can you explain the mission behind Literacy Partners?

We create the conditions for low-income and immigrant parents to transform their lives and create a brighter future for their children through the power of literacy. Parents come to our program to enhance the literacy and language skills they need to succeed in today’s world while boosting their capacity to promote their children’s early learning, social-emotional growth, and school readiness.

What sorts of programs and opportunities does Literacy Partners provide?

In New York City, we offer free reading, writing, and English classes along with a unique GED prep and college transition program for young adult mothers who dropped out of high school. Nationally, we offer free workshops in Spanish for parents to better promote their children’s early literacy and informal STEM learning based on television content we created with Univision.

How do you reach the families who would most benefit from your programming?

Word of mouth is the best way to reach new families. Once our students experience a sense of empowerment, they often want the same benefits for their family members and friends. We also receive referrals from a network of healthcare providers in New York City who screen the parents of their pediatric patients for factors that will disrupt their health and they find the number one issue is low literacy or limited English proficiency.

Literacy Partners has a unique “dual-generation” approach to supporting families. What does this mean and how does it translate into your work?

Ten years ago, we thought about exiting the adult market to focus on children’s literacy. But, when we did the research, we found that the biggest factor driving gaps in student achievement was the educational attainment of the parents. The difference in outcomes for children of college graduates vs high school dropouts is greater than the so-called achievement gap when measured by race or by family income. But, in K-12 funding, strategies to boost the skills of parents are almost non-existent.

Our approach as an adult literacy organization was to design a program specific to the needs and strengths of parents of young children. We focus on the tangible, functional skills they need in their everyday lives, whether it is getting a better job, navigating the healthcare system, or dealing with their landlord. Then, we embed child development and parenting topics into the curriculum so parents can achieve one of their most important goals – supporting their children’s healthy development.

How has Literacy Partners evolved and/or shifted focus since its inception?

In recent years, Literacy Partners has changed in three really important ways: we created educational television programs with Univision reaching 9 million viewers across the country; we are implementing a national program entirely in Spanish to help families promote their children’s early language and literacy development; and our team has transformed from majority white to majority women of color at every level, from frontline staff to the C-Suite.

Circling back to the anniversary, can you share a few milestones you’ll be celebrating?

Last fall, our second social impact telenovela miniseries was broadcast nationally on Univision and we reached our 9 millionth viewer. That was a thrill. But, perhaps even more thrilling is that we just hired our 26th parent leader–26 moms who have been through our program have been trained and hired for pay to organize and facilitate parent education workshops thereby spreading our impact to many more parents. And, speaking of impact, sometime this fall, we will enroll our 50,000th student–a milestone we are very proud of.