Volunteers help adults obtain job skills

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Carol Sorgen

In Baltimore City, 38 percent of adults are either unable to read or read below the fourth grade level, and more than 142,000 adults do not have a high school diploma.

Since 1991, South Baltimore Learning Center (SBLC) has provided Baltimore-area residents in need of education and employment skills with literacy, life skills training and career services.

SBLC now annually serves more than 1,300 adults, ages 16 to 83. It operates out of an award-winning, historically-preserved 19th-century building that once housed the Southern District Police Station.

One SBLC program, designed for individuals with very basic reading skills, pairs a learner with a trained volunteer so they can work together on introductory reading and writing skills at a level and pace best suited to the learner’s needs.

Locust Point resident Janine Linden, 52, has been a one-on-one tutor at SBLC for several years. Linden, a science writer, has worked with learners from 40 to over 70.

“I enjoy the challenge,” said Linden of her weekly tutoring sessions. “I admire the learners’ spirit. They come to the center because they want to learn.”

Linden adds that her students’ interesting life experiences keep her on her toes as she tries to weave what they are familiar with into her lesson plans.

A unique program

In addition to the tutoring, SBLC offers classes in adult basic education, pre-GED and GED instruction (to prepare for high-school equivalency certification), computer classes, career counseling, and academic counseling. Their state-of-the-art computer lab is open to the community, though there is a fee for computer classes.

Also, SBLC is Baltimore City’s sole provider of the External Diploma Program (EDP), which enables qualified adults to earn their high school diploma by completing independent assignments on a flexible schedule rather than take the GED exam.

EDP students can earn a Maryland high school diploma after demonstrating 65 specific life skills in problem solving, critical thinking, speaking, writing and computation.

These skills are demonstrated by completing real-life tasks, such as searching for a new apartment, reviewing a lease, writing a letter of complaint to a landlord, or budgeting rent from a simulated monthly salary. The EDP takes an average of six months to a year to complete.

To assist with job placement, a career counselor works with GED learners and EDP clients to explore employment readiness, resume writing skills and interviewing techniques.

Staff-led individual and group sessions assist learners in determining their career goals, demonstrating performance or getting job training.

While many of the classes and counseling are free, there are costs associated with GED and EDP instruction.

Celebrating a milestone

On April 2, SBLC will celebrate its 20th anniversary with a gala fundraiser. In addition to live and silent auctions, live music, and food and beverages provided by some of Baltimore’s best restaurants, SBLC will honor board member Steven G. Tomczewski.

Tomczewski, a Bel Air resident who is the executive director for environmental operations of Maryland Environmental Service, has been involved with SBLC since 1993.

At the time, he was the Plant Manager for Wheelabrator Baltimore (formerly Baltimore RESCO). Wheelabrator helped SBLC keep its doors open at a difficult time, paying its rent and utilities for one year, until SBLC could raise the money needed to keep delivering its adult literacy services. The company is also being honored at the gala for its long-time support.

Tomczewski said he got involved because SBLC “fills a critical role in the education of the citizens of Baltimore. A literate society is the cornerstone of the democratic process.

“The learners at SBLC really want to be helped and go out of their way to make that effort,” he added. “Their hard work encourages me to continue my work with the center.”

The gala will be held on April 2 at the Montgomery Park Business Center, 1800 Washington Blvd., from 7 to 11:30 p.m.

For more information about volunteering at South Baltimore Learning Center, or to purchase tickets ($100 per person) for the gala, call (410) 625-4215 or visit www.southbaltimorelearns.org