Spreading the word

(First published in the December 13, 2018 issue of City Pages)

Marathon County Literacy now has an office at the Salvation Army


Connie Heidemann outside Marathon County Literacy program’s main office at the Marathon County Public Library. The organization recently expanded into a branch at the Salvation Army.

The Marathon County Literacy Council has a unique problem in promoting its services: How does the program, which helps adults who are literacy deficient, reach people who might not be able to read, say, an advertisement in the first place?

More physical locations help. The program recently expanded to open a branch in the Salvation Army at 202 Callon St. in Wausau with hopes of trying to get more folks ready for employment and other workforce skills, says executive director Connie Heidemann.

Heidemann started with the Marathon County Literacy Council in 2016 as a volunteer and has been helping to grow the program ever since, now as the executive director. As a retired teacher, she’s excited to see the service reaching out and expanding in the community. McLit pairs those who need help in reading, writing and life or workforce skills, with a volunteer tutor for one-on-one learning.

Statistics for adult non-readers in the county lands at 7.6% for the population over 16, according to the County Health Rankings & Roadmaps website, with the state average at 7.3%, though the data haul was gathered some 15 years ago in 2003, says Heidemann.

“Things have changed so much since then,” she says. “I am amazed at the number of adults that will come to me, who either hide that they can’t read or don’t acknowledge it or have some form of repressing it. Some are dyslexic… there a lot of different reasons why they haven’t gotten to read. We all take it for granted if we’ve already gotten through school.”

She wants to help as many people as she can, but says getting program details out to those who need it has been an issue. “We are basically trying to have people who can read spread the word to those who can’t.”

At present McLit has 23 tutors and 37 active learners. Learning focuses on a wide variety of subjects such as ordering from a menu, job applications or even reading street signs. “We try to focus in on a main need,” Heidemann says. And she’s always looking for volunteers. “The key component is patience and you need to know this is going to be a long term thing.”

The program is free of charge and even accepts children as young as third grade (with an adult nearby). Heidemann’s oldest student right now is in his mid 70s. “He ended up getting remarried a few years ago and he had bluffed his way all throughout his life,” she says. His wife is deaf and can’t hear through the phone, and she wants him to text so they can communicate when they aren’t together, she says. That’s a challenge for them.

Currently McLit is partnering with other organizations including The Open Door, The Salvation Army, Catholic Charities, Habitat for Humanity and The Community Corner Club House, and is always looking for new places to collaborate with on programming. “It takes a whole village,” she says.

For more information contact McLit at [email protected] or call 715-679-6170, or see the McLit Marathon County Literacy Facebook page.