Goodwill Industries Serving Southeast Nebraska, Inc. is celebrating 90 years of serving our community! We have officially launched our 12 Months of Goodwill campaign, where each month we will feature a story in connection to our mission. Kicking off in January is one of our four community partners, Lincoln Literacy. Goodwill greatly values our partnership with Lincoln Literacy and we hope you enjoy reading about their impact on the Lincoln community.


Lincoln Literacy Recaps on Goodwill Partnership, Looks Forward to 2022

By Anne-Marie Maher

A Spark Lights a Flame

In early adulthood, Clayton Naff led a lively career in journalism, first in Egypt and later in Japan.

“It was a tremendous experience, but I was staggered at the outset by my inability to speak and understand. Even though I’d studied the languages and the culture — I had every possible advantage — and yet I felt really helpless until I learned from others and eventually caught on,” Naff said. 

He didn’t fathom that his experiences adapting to a new language and culture would prepare him for what he describes as the best job of his life. Years later in 2005, Naff applied for the open Director position at Lincoln Literacy, a nonprofit with a mission to strengthen the community through teaching the English language to people of all cultures.

At the time, Lincoln Literacy mostly operated through one-on-one mentorship classes. However, Naff understood the value of the group setting. Working with Woods Charitable Fund, community support and other partners, they embarked on a plan to create the English Language and Literacy Academy (ELLA). 

Since then, the agency has grown to serve thousands of individuals each year. Still, at the heart of the organization lies its volunteers. 

Naff said, “Those volunteers are successful, not because they are accredited educators, but because they really get to know the people who come to their classes and develop authentic relationships with them.”

Refugees and immigrants make up the vast majority of individuals served. Volunteers play a crucial role in not only helping their students learn reading, writing and speaking skills, but also with life skills such as how to ride a bus, read an electric bill and to ask questions. 

Along the way, Lincoln Literacy gained more partners in support of their mission, including Goodwill Industries Serving Southeast Nebraska, Inc. in 2012. With a common goal of leading individuals in the community to greater independence, the partnership just made sense. 

“Many of the people that we serve depend on Goodwill to furnish their homes. Goodwill plays a really important part for people to restart their lives in this community,” Naff said. 

Goodwill partners with other nonprofits in Lincoln who help fulfill its mission of connecting people to jobs. It is with this understanding that Goodwill provides funding to those partner agencies. 

“Goodwill gives many of them a first job. From there, there’s no telling how far they will go,” Naff said.

COVID-19 Recovery

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, Lincoln Literacy operated 22 learning sites across the city, all of which were located in spaces provided by partners. These schools, businesses, community sites and other nonprofits helped Lincoln Literacy offer 70 classes a week.

Like other local agencies, Lincoln Literacy was pushed to discover new avenues of fulfilling their mission during the pandemic. Their first task was to act as a reliable source of information and advice to those they serve. 

The agency staged three drive-through fairs in 2020, giving residents information on how to connect with community resources. Additionally, they gave out over 100 chrome books and paid for internet service so individuals could use community resources online. 

Staff worked diligently to train volunteers on facilitating online classes and went on to create dual language courses in eight different languages. Three weeks after the shutdown in March of 2020, Lincoln Literacy held their first online class. By the end of the spring semester, 68 classes were held each week. 

Psychologically, the rapid response and limited resources took its toll on agencies throughout the community, including Lincoln Literacy. The community recognized that need. 

“Goodwill has been steadfast throughout. Many of the entities that support us have been great,” Naff said. “Additionally, in 2020, when there was so much uncertainty and unemployment was spiking, I thought that our donations on Give to Lincoln Day would crash, and instead, they set a new record.” 

And they set a new record again in 2021. The community’s outpouring of support reinvigorated Naff and the entire Lincoln Literacy staff.

Crossing The Bridge To 2022

Although the pandemic still bears some uncertainty, Lincoln Literacy aspires to continually expand their services while remaining safe and diligent.

In 2020, with the support of Woods Charitable Fund, Lincoln Literacy began the Bridgeway to a Better Life initiative with the aim of helping adults master basic English language and literacy and then go on to gain the essential life and occupational skills they need to lift their families out of poverty and achieve their dreams. Many refugees and immigrants hold valuable skills and Lincoln Literacy wants to help them find ways to put those skills to work in Lincoln. 

The initiative began with a CNA Prep class that showed great success, which encouraged Naff to attempt other avenues for employment credentials. Now, they offer options for paraeducators, credentials for manufacturing jobs, teacher certification and more. This year, they hope to expand that program and offer even more options. 

Additionally, volunteers can now join the organization as a “job mentor.” These mentors help their students write resumes and practice interviews while encouraging them through the job search process.

Naff said, “During that time, if you know there’s someone that cares about you, it can make all the difference.” 

These new programs reinforce Lincoln Literacy’s strong connection and partnership with Goodwill.

“I and everyone else here are really grateful for the partnership with Goodwill and for the support that we’ve gotten…Now more than ever we are working to ensure that people can find a living wage job and plan for their futures and that aligns even more closely with Goodwill’s mission,” Naff said.

Celebrate with Lincoln Literacy as the embark on 50 years serving the community. To learn more, visit their website at https://www.lincolnliteracy.org/.

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