Donations to United Way Help People Learn to Read, Address Poverty Challenges

United Way of the Ozarks supports Ozarks Literacy Council in helping children and adults find pathways out of poverty.

By Jordan Blomquist

Jun 2024

Betsy Doughtery, Gigi Coombes and Patty Tweedle are opening new doors of opportunity through their work with Ozarks Literacy Council, teaching people to read, write in cursive, manage personal finances and more.


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United Way of the Ozarks is helping break the cycle of generational poverty by focusing on programs that create paths to self-sufficiency. “We are playing the long game and helping prevent crises before they occur by investing in programs that prepare youth to succeed and move adults to stand on their own,” says Mary Sue Hoban, director of communication and engagement at United Way of the Ozarks.

One of the many organizations United Way collaborates with is Ozarks Literacy Council (OLC), a non-profit dedicated to promoting literacy by offering free resources and services to adults and children in southwest Missouri.  

OLC helps about 180 learners a year on a pathway out of poverty through improved literacy. Volunteer tutors must attend a three-and-a-half-hour training session, pass a background check and read at a high school level. Sarah Derr, OLC’s program coordinator, organizes workshops to provide ongoing support for the tutors.

“Being a reading tutor is a rewarding job,” says Amy Jardell, executive director at OLC. “It is amazing to be a part of a person’s journey to improve themselves!”

417 Magazine talked to three tutors from OLC to learn about their experiences and how they are impacting the lives of their students. 

Helping local students can address real problems.
Photos courtesy of Betsy DoughertyBetsy Dougherty tutoring her students from Ozarks Literacy Council.
Betsy Dougherty helping kids with homework.
Photos courtesy of Betsy DoughertyBetsy Dougherty tutoring her students from Ozarks Literacy Council.
Betsy Dougherty tutoring students.
Photos courtesy of Betsy DoughertyBetsy Dougherty tutoring her students from Ozarks Literacy Council.

Seasoned Teacher Betsy Dougherty Guides Student to Pre-College Enrollment

After Betsy Dougherty retired from Springfield Public Schools, she searched for something familiar to fill her time, and OLC became the perfect outlet. 

Over the past two years, Dougherty has tutored three adult students. “My first student was a good fit for me because tutoring sessions mostly focused on her need to improve her English pronunciation and writing skills since English was not her first language,” Dougherty says. Her background in speech pathology proved beneficial to her student, who recently graduated from the OLC program but keeps in touch with Dougherty. 

Her second student has nearly completed all eight Challenger books—which use phonics and vocabulary to build reading, comprehension and writing skills—and has enrolled in pre-college classes for math and English. Dougherty’s third student is a young mom with two children. “Although we had a slow start, I am glad we both stuck with the program,” Dougherty says. “She has recently made leaps and bounds in reading progress mainly due to her desire to read to her kids every night and help them with their young educational needs.” 

While tutoring sessions typically involve guiding her students through book series, games and puzzles, Dougherty emphasizes that she has gained as much from her students as they have from her. “They are good teachers themselves, and all are so motivated to dig in and work,” she says. “They frequently express their appreciation for my help and time given. How rewarding is that!”

From Reading to Personal Finance, Gigi Coombes Tutors Two Brothers in Kimberling City

Now living in Kimberling City, Gigi Coombes is a certified teacher with 10 years of experience teaching in St. Louis, Missouri. When she received a message from a friend about two brothers in Kimberling City needing a tutor, she eagerly stepped in to help. This marked the beginning of her journey with OLC. “What OLC does is amazing,” Coombes says. “Teaching people to read is phenomenal.”

Coombes meets with the brothers at the Kimberling City Library twice a week for an hour each session. They practice sight words, work on comprehension and even cover a bit of personal finance. OLC provides her with the necessary materials, which she then expands to build her own curriculum. She has witnessed their progress in daily activities, such as signing their names and recognizing words. “If you’re a true educator, one little ounce of success makes your day,” Coombes says. “They get better and better. That’s the reward.”

For those interested in becoming tutors, Coombes says if you have it in your heart, you should go for it. “You have the best support with Ozarks Literacy Council,” she says. “Pass it on. Help someone else be successful in life.” 

Patty Tweedle Helps Her Student Learn Cursive

“Reading opens doors,” says Patty Tweedle, who has been a tutor with OLC for more than six months now. 

Tweedle moved from Branson to Springfield five years ago, seeking ways to connect with the community. As someone who studied to be a monastery teacher and is a lover of books, she found the perfect fit when she met Amy Jardell, who introduced her to OLC.

Tweedle tutors a young woman in her early 20s who is eager to learn. They meet once a week in a study room at the local library. Sometimes her student picks a book from the library, and other times Tweedle brings something specific to work on.

Recently, Tweedle was moved nearly to tears by her student’s progress. Her student had expressed a desire to learn cursive, something that proved to be more challenging than Tweedle anticipated. After weeks of cursive lessons, her student picked out a library book written in cursive and began to read it. “I fought back tears for a solid hour,” Tweedle says. “I was so proud of her. It’s one thing to write [cursive], but it’s another thing to read it.”

Tutoring has filled the teaching void for Tweedle. “There’s always been a part of me that really enjoys connecting and interacting with young minds,” she says. “You can always be a positive influence on someone.” She views OLC as a vital program for the 417 community. “There are way too many folks that need this help, and I’m delighted to be a part of it,” Tweedle says.

Learn More About Ozarks Literacy Council

Purpose: Promote literacy by offering free resources and services to adults and children in southwest Missouri.

Years in Springfield: OLC was formed in 1968—originally named the Springfield Area Literacy Council. 

Partnership: OLC’s partnership with United Way began in 1979 and provided a small office downtown and a part-time secretary after previously operating from private homes and churches. Today, United Way of the Ozarks uses its Community Investment fund—built by individual donations—to support OLC programs.

Ozarks Literacy Council


Interested in becoming a volunteer or a new learner? Visit for sign-up forms and more information about the programs.
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