MARSHFIELD – Starting a new life in a country hundreds of miles from home is scary, especially if you don’t know the language. This is the reality for refugees from Afghanistan and other war-torn countries who will relocate to central Wisconsin in the coming months. These refugees join many adults already living here who face this literacy challenge. Security Health Plan of Wisconsin, Inc., and Marshfield Clinic Health System are investing in the Portage County Literacy Council’s (PCLC) efforts to address these literacy challenges.
“We’re excited to partner with the Portage County Literacy Council’s mission to change lives one word at a time. Literacy goes hand in hand with health care. When a person understands health, wellness and insurance materials, they are empowered to change their life and live better,” said Security Health Plan CEO Krista Hoglund.
The PCLC’s Words & Friends for Literacy annual fundraising event helps support the agency’s adult literacy programs and this year’s new cultural orientation program designed for Afghan families. The event runs from Wednesday, April 27, through Friday, April 29, and will feature word games and challenges of varying skill levels. Teams can meet together in person or online to celebrate and support literacy. To sign your team up, log onto https://pocolit.org/fundraiser.
The PCLC provides free one-on-one or group lessons personalized to a learner’s needs, skill level and scheduling limitations, either in-person or virtually. According to PCLC Co-Director Kristy SeBlonka, Security Health Plan and Marshfield Clinic Health System’s investment will benefit the agency’s core services such as the traditional English language skills curriculum for locals and the refugee families moving to the area.
“People want to express themselves and make decisions for themselves and their families,” SeBlonka said. “They want to do work that is meaningful to them, to be part of a community, and that is hard to do without learning English. We want all of our learners to know they bring value to our communities.”
The PCLC is also providing U.S. cultural orientation training as part of refugee resettlement efforts in Central Wisconsin. In 2022, the Wausau branch office of the Ethiopian Community Development Council (ECDC) will resettle over 100 Afghans and 75 refugees from other countries in Wausau, Stevens Point, and Marshfield. Partnering with ECDC’s Wausau branch, the PCLC will make a tremendous impact in helping refugees acclimate to their new communities.
The PCLC is the only community-based free literacy program in Portage County. Part-time volunteer tutors spend hours providing high-quality training and personal services using limited resources. The PCLC works with a variety of community partners and is a member of Wisconsin Literacy and the national organization, ProLiteracy. An AmeriCorps member through Marshfield Clinic Health System is involved in initiatives to improve the link between literacy and community health. Last year, the PCLC received a sub grant from Wisconsin Literacy to hire a vaccine outreach coordinator to help people understand and access Covid-19 vaccines.
According to the National Center for Statistics “Adult Literacy in the United States” July 2019 report, 43 million U.S. adults possess low English literacy skills. 66% of those are U.S.-born adults while 34% represent non-U.S.-born adults.