Innovation Grant Winners

These Directory members were recently selected to receive Innovation Grant Awards for their successful and inventive approach to increasing programmatic reach. Literacy and education programs listed in the Directory are eligible to apply for an Innovation Grant. To join the Directory, submit your member listing here.

To find out more about the Directory's bi-monthly grant opportunities, subscribe to the National Center for Families Learning (NCFL) monthly e-newsletter.

  • Newberry Adult Education (SC)
  • Urban Peak (CO)
  • Community Action Project of Tulsa County (Okla.)
  • Kalamazoo Literacy Council (MI)
  • Literacy Works Chicago (IL)
  • Nashville International Center for Empowerment (NICE, TN)
  • Santa Barbara Public Library System (SBPLS, CA)

Newberry Adult Education | Newberry, SC.


The Adult and Continuing Education Program of the School District of Newberry County serves adult learners seeking a GED, diploma, career readiness certification (WorkKeys), or academic enrichment. Professional staff members are dedicated and committed to providing individualized instruction to meet the educational needs of all student enrolling in our program.

We serve a diverse group of students beyond the age of 17 who are not enrolled or required to be enrolled in a secondary school. We offer the knowledge, skills, and individual attention needed for students to successfully achieve professional and personal goals.

We frequently assess student needs, and create individualized, comprehensive plans of study and instruction. Direct and technology-integrated instruction is provided by a highly qualified and certified instructional staff. You learn more about Newberry Adult Education at their website,

Urban Peak | Denver, CO.


Founded in 1988, Urban Peak is the only non-profit organization in Denver that provides a full convergence of services for youth ages 15 through 24 experiencing homelessness or at imminent risk of becoming homeless. Our goal is to help these youth overcome real life challenges and become self-sufficient adults.

We do this by providing five essential services at little or no cost to the youth (youth in housing do pay a minimal rent each month):

  • an overnight shelter
  • a daytime Drop-In Center
  • Street Outreach
  • Education & Employment programming
  • Supportive housing

Our goal is to meet youth where they are and to provide them with the assistance and support they need to become self-sufficient or obtain the necessary services they need to exit a life on the streets. Urban Peak's programs and services are founded on the principles of trauma-informed care* and positive youth development and assist youth in reaching their potential and living a successful life off of the streets.You can learn more about Urban Peak at their website,

Community Action Project of Tulsa County (Okla.)

CAP Tulsa's mission is to help young children in lower-income families grow up and achieve economic success through services tailored to meet individual family needs. Each year, CAP serves 2,300 children and their families at 12 Head Start preschool centers and through a home-visiting program.

CAP Tulsa's ESL program includes lessons and activities designed to help equip parents with the language skills necessary to navigate their daily lives and improve child and adult English literacy: dialogic reading; conversation circles and games; practicing important phone calls and in-person conversations; and using technology.

The $1,000 Innovation Grant will fund dialogic reading books for parents enrolled in the agency's ESL program. Each year, program participants receive six books per semester to take home and read with their children after practicing how to create and expand conversations about these books during their ESL classes.

Read more about Cap Tulsa by clicking here.

Kalamazoo Literacy Council

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Every year after 2011, the Kalamazoo Literacy Council in Kalamazoo, Mich., found its number of students outpacing the number of available volunteers to offer literacy tutoring and assistance to area adults. For the students, the wait could be up to six months to receive instruction. However, by the time a tutor became available to help, the student had lost his/her desire to study or had moved on to other goals. Other times, the student simply did not have the means or transportation to attend the tutoring session; most of KLC's 315 students were unemployed and struggling with educational and literacy issues.

Undaunted and driven by the dedication and innovation prevalent in literacy and education programs across the U.S., KLC found a solution to the problem. Working jointly with community partners within the Adult Literacy Collaborative of Kalamazoo County, KLC developed an innovative, cost-effective solution to the problem: the Community Literacy Center Model (CLCM). With sessions scheduled to accommodate students on a drop-in basis, this strategy has reduced the waiting time for students to as little as one week and included expanded instructional capabilities. The KLC has successfully piloted the program at 14 sites accessible to adult learners across the community. All partners provide space and volunteers free of charge. In 2014 alone, over 132 students had reported accomplishments ranging from having improved their employment/job skills, obtaining a driver's license, to helping their children with their homework. One student KLC was able to reach through its efforts was Rob Smith. Read his story here.

Literacy Works (Chicago)

Funding challenges, and all of the struggles that accompany them, are persistent and critical problems nationwide for adult learning and literacy programs—and the potential students working to improve their skills and lives through education.

Literacy Works, a Chicago nonprofit established in 1995, embodies the collaboration required to meet these enduring challenges. With roots in four community-based agencies banding together in 1995, Literacy Works has grown to support a network of more than 50 adult literacy and parent education programs across the city.

Today Literacy Works is rising to meet the needs of learners across the Chicago area despite a potentially crippling state budget impasse that affects adult education programs. Some programs have closed and others have had to drastically cut services. To reach the students most affected by the shortage of services, Literacy Works has partnered with the Chicago Public Library to offer an Adult Learning in the Library (ALL) program at two branches twice a week. During ALL, Literacy Works provides a site coordinator and trained volunteers to conduct English conversation groups, reading and writing groups, and math activities.

"Creative collaboration is a vital strategy across education efforts. Literacy Works is a great example of an organization working to pull a community's adult learning resources together to meet the needs of students who need these services—and, together, overcoming daunting budget challenges," said Lisa Avetisian, director of the National Literacy Directory.

In addition to operating a hotline for students seeking to find a nearby program that fits their learning needs and goals, Literacy Works also actively recruits volunteers through social and traditional means to place them at short-staffed organizations. Their main goal is to relieve some of the burden for programs operating with skeletal budgets.

Literacy Works trains volunteer tutors and professional instructors at community-based adult learning programs throughout Chicago. More than 700 practitioners at nearly 50 organizations are trained annually to offer high-quality instruction in Adult Basic Education and English as a Second Language.

Nashville International Center for Empowerment (NICE)

After receiving a string of requests English language learners (ELL) for classes that would prepare them to obtain a high school diploma, the Nashville International Center for Empowerment Adult Education Program created free pre-high school equivalency math and social study courses for English language learning students.

NICE has always provided ESL classes that utilize a curriculum based on workforce and life-skills English classes, but realized many of their students were unfamiliar with the test-taking language, skills, and strategies needed to pass the GED and HiSet. Recognizing the distinct needs of ELL students, the math courses focused on the academic English needed to understand mathematical concepts and procedures. The social studies course addresses not only the academic language needed to pass the exam, but also how the specific content from anthropology to economics connects to students' personal and public spheres of community.

“The Nashville International Center for Empowerment is taking preparation courses for high school equivalency tests to another level, meeting the distinct needs of their students in real world contexts. The National Literacy Directory is proud to recognize this organization's innovative spirit and implementation," said Lisa Avetisian, director of the National Literacy Directory.

NICE purchased iPads and integrated technology and task-based collaborative activities that allowed students to become comfortable with drawing and analyzing information from maps, charts, and other sources of visual information typically found on exams. NICE's students were not only able to master the new concepts, but strengthened their digital literacy skills and formed connections with their classmates.

Further, these courses were strategically designed to further learning objectives by connecting course content and students to the larger community.

For example, a unit on “classical civilizations" with a focus on libraries and learning included a visit from the Nashville Public Library where students learned about library services and received library cards. Additionally, a unit on environment and sustainability created a partnership with Nashville's Urban Green Lab.

The new courses launched in January 2016. Sixteen students are already benefitting from the creation of these courses and the newly incorporated technology and civics-based focus, and there's now a waiting list to enroll in these classes.

“This class is very cool, you know? Maybe I will never go to Washington, D.C., but I know Smithsonian museum from my class in Nashville," said Saad, an Iraqi student. “It helps to see things like the hominids in real life."

Santa Barbara Public Library System (SBPLS)

Santa Barbara Public Library's Reading Ambassadors/Summer Storytellers program teaches second- through fourth-grade children to read aloud to younger children at school, home, and in the community. It's a part of the library's Read Together/Juntos Leemos initiative, a joint project of the Library's Youth Services and Adult Literacy programs.

The story of how the idea for Read Together/Juntos Leemos began is a good one: Two young mothers walked into the central library location and requested adult literacy tutors. They had six young children with them, ages six months to eight years. Although one mother struggled with reading a low-level text, her eight-year-old came up next to her and proudly read it aloud. The mother beamed at her child, but was embarrassed for herself.

It was then the staff realized that involving all family members as literacy builders at home, especially in families where parents have low literacy skills, was one route to meet the challenge of preparing every child for kindergarten.

With help from scholars and a curriculum specialist in the school district, the library developed a palette of programs designed to serve the whole family. In addition, they trained at-risk youth in after-school programs and summer camps to become storytellers and encouraged them to read with younger children in their lives.

"The Santa Barbara Public Library recognized and activated an opportunity to engage at-risk kids and help younger children build critical literacy skills at the same time, with great results," said Lisa Avetisian, director of the National Literacy Directory. "It's a powerful example of one library's ingenuity and its dedication to developing solutions for literacy challenges—an effort we know is playing out in so many libraries across the U.S."

Participant surveys show that 61 percent of children with a younger child at home read to them more frequently after a month in this program, and over 100 percent of parents surveyed noted that their younger children were more interested in books after the program. Over 200 "Reading Ambassadors" have been trained since fall of 2013. The library estimates that the program has already benefited more than 1,000 students and their younger family members.