From the United Way: Literacy New York Buffalo-Niagara empowers Niagara County residents

Tara Schafer

EDITOR'S NOTE: The Niagara Gazette is once again partnering with the United Way of Greater Niagara to showcase local groups receiving support from the United Way.

When Josie came to Literacy Buffalo Niagara, she was working in the hotel industry. She was good at her job, comfortable with the company, and eager to apply for a promotion that offered better hours and better pay. But her lack of reading skills held her back.

Josie could read enough to get by, but not to thrive. To get the promotion to supervisor, she would need to be able to read orders, instructions, and schedules. She lacked the necessary vocabulary, the fluency of reading, and the confidence to move forward at her job and create a better life for herself and her family.

After working with her tutor from Literacy Buffalo Niagara, Josie was able to apply for the promotion – and she earned it!

Adult students, like Josie, work with a volunteer tutor in a one-on-one setting. The two-hour weekly sessions are designed to help improve individual skills in both reading and speaking English. Those who need help with reading set goals – such as getting a better job, improving their health, or communicating with their children’s teachers. Those who need help speaking English set conversation goals, often work toward their U.S. Citizenship, and sometimes graduate to become reading students. All our students are working toward building a better life for themselves and their families. In turn, we believe that strengthens our community.

There are thousands of people like Josie who live in our community. More than 147,000 people in Erie and Niagara Counties struggle with their basic reading and English skills. It impacts their daily lives. From being able to compare items at the grocery store to understanding instructions from their doctor to applying for jobs and promotions, reading plays a crucial role in not just surviving but in thriving. 

In alignment with the mission of United Way of Greater Niagara, our organization wants to see our community thrive, and we are dedicated to helping adults improve their literacy so they can reach their goals and break the intergenerational cycle of low literacy and poverty. Our students come from diverse backgrounds, including native, immigrant and refugee communities. We are devoted to helping them gain the literacy skills they need to fully succeed.

United Way of Greater Niagara understands that without programs like ours, the future is bleak for many Niagara County residents--stuck in a cycle of poverty, reliant on government support. One recent statistic reveals that 70% of welfare recipients have low reading levels and that high school drop-outs ages 25-34 are more than three times as likely to receive public assistance as high school graduates. Without intervention, people on welfare may be stuck on “the system” with slim chances for upward mobility. Literacy Buffalo Niagara, with the backing of United Way of Greater Niagara, has been able to create cost-effective solutions for this problem that has plagued our region for years, offering a path to prosperity for thousands of Niagara County residents.   

We are grateful to the United Way of Greater Niagara for providing critical funding for Literacy Buffalo Niagara. Their financial support, particularly throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, allows us to live our mission and create impactful programming to serve our students. Most importantly, it allows us to keep our tutoring services for adults free. By removing the cost barrier to this critical and basic educational component, Literacy Buffalo Niagara is able to meet students where they are. One less barrier is one step closer to achieving important life goals.

Tara Schafer is the executive director at Literacy New York Buffalo-Niagara. For more information about Literacy New York Buffalo-Niagara, visit or call 876-8991.

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