Literacy DuPage—Literally Changing Lives

August 2013 View more

N2013_08_01_096NEIGHIn today’s world of high-tech tools and constant communication, it’s hard to imagine that there are tens of thousands of DuPage County residents who are struggling to read, write, speak, and understand English. In fact, some residents struggle with everyday tasks such as filling out a job application, reading a prescription label, preparing for a driver’s license exam, writing a note to their child’s teacher, shopping, or even making a doctor’s appointment.

That’s where Tana Tatnall and Literacy DuPage come in. Literacy DuPage is a nonprofit, community based organization that has been serving more than 30 communities in DuPage County for 40 years. Their mission is to provide accessible and customized tutoring in reading, writing, speaking and understanding English to help adults achieve independence.

“In the last 10 to 15 years, anyone living in DuPage County has seen a huge demographic shift. The population is shifting to include more immigrants who may be lacking English skills,” said Tana Tatnall, executive director of Literacy DuPage. “There is also an unknown number of adults who are schooled in the United States and taught English. They speak well but have limited writing ability and read below the 9th grade level,” added Tatnall. “Most do well in hiding their problem with literacy because they are embarrassed.”

A Helping Hand 

Literacy DuPage partners with libraries throughout DuPage County to provide customized tutoring and resources for people struggling with everyday life skills.

“We serve people who are the most vulnerable in life. Those who have to overcome obstacles to succeed,” said Tatnall. Last year, more than 500 adults were served by the tutoring programs.

“We are literally changing lives and impacting future generations,” said Tatnall.

Teach one, Reach Many

There are more than 200 adults on a waiting list to be tutored with even more waiting to get on that list. This includes many in the Naperville area. “Our biggest need is for tutors. Between 20 and 25 percent of our tutors and students are in the Naperville area,” said Tatnall.

More than 400 volunteer tutors are serving DuPage County residents, making Literacy DuPage the second largest volunteer organization in the nation. Literacy DuPage trains those volunteers to provide free, customized, learner-centered English language instruction. Tutoring occurs in one-on-one or small group settings at a mutually convenient time and location. Tutors incorporate everyday materials such as a newspaper, map, or job application into the lessons.

“We match the schedule and location of the tutor with that of the student. Most sessions take place at home or in the library and are customized to meet the students everyday ‘life skills’ needed in an English-speaking world,” added Tatnall.

Tutors do not need to be bilingual or have an education background. The only requirements are fluency in English and a high school diploma. Tutors go through an 18-hour training session in a series of six workshops. After the training, the tutors meet with their learners for two hours per week at a convenient time and location.

The Next Chapter

A new initiative Tatnall is hoping to launch soon is called “English for Health”, a health literacy program designed to provide a better understanding and access to healthcare for residents.

Tatnall, who has been working with Literacy DuPage for six years, will be retiring in August. She has been part of the nonprofit world for more than 20 years and has a strong background in education. For Tatnall, working with Literacy DuPage has been the perfect fit. “I wouldn’t trade the last six years for anything. It has been the most rewarding time for me. I get to personally see all of the success stories first hand. That’s very rewarding,” said Tatnall.


Naperville Volunteer Tutor Training Sessions

Nichols Public Library

  • January 16, 20, 23, 27, 30 and February 13, 2014 
  • 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. 
  • For more information and to register call 630.416.6699 or visit