Literacy DuPage—Helping Children Overcome a Language Barrier

June 2016 View more

Bernie Steiger, Executive Director

Bernie Steiger, Executive Director

Six years ago when Bernie Steiger picked up a flyer for Literacy DuPage at her local library, she had no idea how much it would impact her life, her family, and help improve the lives of thousands more in DuPage County.

“Our family had just returned to the U.S. after living abroad for nearly 10 years,” Steiger explains, referencing her time in Lisbon working with top technology companies in Portugal. “While at the library, trying to help my own children improve their English skills, I was struck by the diversity of cultures, native languages and backgrounds of the other mothers wanting to help their children as well. I was also moved by their dedication to helping their children when they themselves struggled with English. I found a Literacy of DuPage flyer in the library and called the next day to register for tutor training.”

Steiger started as a volunteer in 2010, today she is the organization’s executive director. Since 2013, she has been utilizing her 25 years of international marketing and business experience to meet the needs of thousands of people in DuPage County. According to recent U.S. Census data, an estimated 100,000 adults in DuPage County need improved English skills to better their lives, to benefit their families, and to become more productive in their places of work.

Personal Connections

Christian, a young mother of two who knew very little English, is just one of the many literacy success stories. Before working with her tutor, Christian struggled to communicate with her children’s teachers, health professionals and others. But today, according to Steiger, she is a fearless advocate for herself and her family. She has a driver’s license, attends school conferences, and has secured a job. She even sat with Steiger during a TV interview. “She confidently praised her tutor, in great English, for helping her to achieve all her goals,” said Steiger.

Literacy Services

Over the past 44 years, Literacy DuPage has become the second largest volunteer literacy agency in the nation helping adult learners, like Christian, improve their limited or non-existent English skills. Literacy DuPage is making a difference through a variety of learning experiences like one-on-one tutoring, conversation groups—facilitated by tutors in local libraries each Wednesday night—and through a workforce education program where employees can be tutored on their work sites to improve productivity, reduce turnover, and increase client satisfaction.


Volunteer teachers, or tutors, like the one who helped Christian, are key. However, people who are interested in volunteering often dismiss the idea because they assume previous tutoring, teaching, or secondary language experience is required.

“Thankfully, this perceived obstacle is easily overcome through training and on-going support for tutors and learners,” said Steiger. “Our comprehensive tutor training workshops give volunteers all the tools they need to become successful tutors. We offer 18 hours of hands-on classroom-based instruction with a highly qualified professional tutor trainer.” And when the training is complete, Steiger says the support continues. “We offer monthly Peer Tutor Mentor Group meetings, in-service workshops, newsletters, review meetings and a dedicated and eager staff available to help answer questions and address challenges,” said Steiger.

Their record is impressive. Since last July, Literacy DuPage has matched 350 tutor volunteers with 400 adult learners for their one-on-one tutoring. But more volunteers are needed. Currently they need 100 more trained tutors before the end of June to help the more than 300 clients currently on the tutoring waiting list.

For more information on how you can help Literacy DuPage, visit their website at

Photo by Robyn Sheldon