Re:Start Holds Annual Meeting To Celebrate And Discuss Adult Education And Chattanooga Area Literacy Movement

Monday, September 30, 2013

Re:Start will celebrate more than 10 years of adult education initiatives in Hamilton County as part of its 54th annual meeting, which is scheduled from 4–5:30 p.m. today on the fourth floor of the downtown branch of the Chattanooga Public Library.  Tom Griscom, president of Chattanooga’s Downtown Rotary Club and former editor of the Chattanooga Times Free Press, is scheduled to open the meeting with a speech about the impact adult education initiatives have made in local economic development efforts. 

As Tennessee's oldest adult literacy education program, Re:Start can trace its mission back to 1959 when several community leaders came together to form the Chattanooga Area Literacy Movement.  In 2009, this initiative changed its name from Reading Education for Adult Development (READ) of Chattanooga to Re:Start as the organization launched a new effort to change the perception of Adult Literacy Education in Hamilton County.

According to Re:Start Executive Director Lori Hairrell, “The Board took a series of bold steps in 2005 to implement deep changes for adult education reform. Thanks to $2 million of financial investments from the Benwood Foundation, Community Foundation of Greater Chattanooga, Lyndhurst Foundation, City of Chattanooga, Junior League of Chattanooga, Dollar General, the What to Expect Foundation in New York, NY and others, Re:Start was able to build strong, collaborative partnerships in the community that helped assist adults who were trying to move out of poverty. One such resource is the Re:Start scholarship fund, which was started by 14-year-old Aliza Cohen and has now grown into to an adult education program that continues to make a difference in our community today.”

“The Chattanooga community made a significant investment from 2004 to 2012 to help Re:Start build a solid foundation for a program that helps people to navigate an adult education system so they can secure needed credentials for steady employment, which is the key to enabling them to find safe, secure housing, provide food on their table; and live healthy, safe lives,” said Ken Smith, outgoing board president for Re:Start. “We want to express our thanks to the representatives from these organizations for being social entrepreneurs in driving the leadership efforts for adult education reform.  Thanks to their support, Re:Start was able to continue its efforts in leading a community and regional literacy movement”

Re:Start will also recognize three leaders in adult education and family literacy.  Mr. and Mrs. Pete Cooper and family will be honored with the Senator William E. Brock “Visionary Award” that recognizes individuals for seeing what is and what could be.  Mrs. Shawn Kurrelmeier-Lee will be honored with the John C. Stophel “Never-Say-Never Award” for overcoming impossible odds to find unlimited possibilities through innovative literacy efforts in our community.  Taneka Albert, Re:Start’s customer service coordinator and Education Coach, will be recognized with the Aliza L. Cohen “Make A Difference” award for realizing the positive impact and difference one individual can make in the lives of others.  The awards will be presented by previous award winners former UTC Chancellor Roger Brown, First Tennessee’s Hampton Johnston and Re:Start’s Education Director Dr. Rubi Porter. 

As part of the annual meeting, Ms. Hairrell will speak on the changing landscape for the path to obtaining the High School Equivalency (HSE) diploma.  As part of this discussion, she will provide supporters with an update regarding the future outlook for Re:Start and its adult education programs after the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development Division of Adult Education (TNDAE) selected Chattanooga State to be the sole adult education provider in Hamilton County, effective July 1, 2013.  After considering its options, the Board recently voted to work the Partnership for Families, Children and Adults to manage its adult education and literacy program, meaning this vital program will continue to help underserved adults navigate pathways towards a HSE diploma, post-secondary education and job skills training credentials.  Since 2005, Re:Start has helped more than 1,000 adults prepare to take and pass the GED test so they can earn a Tennessee HSE diploma. 

Mr. Smith said, “Literacy is the key to breaking the poverty cycle. The impact Re:Start and its volunteers have made since launching this effort is incredible as our efforts to be the leading enabler of literacy and adult education collaborations by 2012 has led to building strong collaborative partnerships for adult education in our community.  While we were disappointed in the state’s decision to reduce funding for adult education, we will not let this decision become a reason to fail our students and look forward to working with the Partnership for Families, Children and Adults to ensure everyone in Hamilton County can find help with preparing for and passing the GED test.”

Mr. Smith also disclosed that Ms. Hairrell will step down as executive director to pursue an opportunity with Independent Healthcare Properties, LLC as the company’s new director of corporate and social responsibility.

“Nine years age when I accepted this challenge, I never dreamed it would change the course of my life’s work. Being exposed to literacy for children through my work with United Way quickly educated me on how to rebrand the need for a HSE diploma. The smartest thing I ever did was hire employees and recruit volunteers who understood how to align the adult education needs of our community with the goals of our funders.  In a short amount of time, we worked with our funders to successfully change how we taught adult literacy.”

Ms. Hairrell said, “I have taken great pride in how Re:Start has always worked with gang members, homeless and those with mental illness and other special needs. The majority of our students where employed, but they lack the necessary credentials to move forward and become a more productive member of the workforce.“

At the conclusion of the meeting, organization officials plan to introduce members of the 2013-2014 Board of Directors. The new Re:Start Board will be led by Danna Bailey of EPB. Under the new Board, Re:Start will continue to lead the community and regional literacy movement but will expand its mission to include Family Literacy as part of a new collaboration that will ensure literacy remains a priority in this community for years to come.

“I would like to thank Lori and the past directors for their leadership and tireless work to address the literacy challenges we have in our community,” said Ms. Bailey. “The new Board will continue to build upon the successes of the past and looks forward to bringing additional support to the literacy efforts in Hamilton County.” 

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