YWCA Pekin hopes to use a recently awarded grant from Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White to expand its Heart of Illinois Adult Literacy Program to rural communities throughout Tazewell County.

“I’m hoping we can expand into other, smaller communities outside of the Pekin area, and get into the libraries to connect with learners and potential tutors,” said Marie Hilst, the literacy program’s director. “We always have a need for tutors.”

This year, White awarded over $5.6 million in adult literacy grants, with YWCA Pekin receiving $85,947.

“An estimated 2.1 million Illinois residents need adult literacy and/or English-language instruction,” White said in a July 25 news release. “I am pleased to provide funding for 113 local literacy projects that will allow adult learners to achieve their utmost potential in the upcoming year. I will continue to do all I can to ensure that every citizen of this state has access to quality literacy programs.” 

Annual grants from the Secretary of State are the primary funding source for the literacy program, said YWCA Pekin Executive Director Tanya Simpson. The money funds the adult literacy director’s position, salaries for part-time assistants, school supplies for both learners and tutors and operational expenses. This year’s grant is the largest that YWCA Pekin has receive to date. Like Hilst, Simpson hopes the funding will allow the program to increase its presence throughout the county.

“I think a lot of people believe we just serve the Pekin area,” she said. “We actually serve all of Tazewell County. We have learners right now who we started working with in Morton and East Peoria. That was one of the reasons for the re-branding. Instead of the YWCA Pekin Adult Literacy program, it’s the Heart of Illinois Adult Literacy Program. (The grant will) help us to expand the awareness that we serve more than just Pekin. Our goal is, with this year’s Secretary of State funding, to continue that expansion and recruit more learners.”

Last year, the program served 55 adult learners, Simpson said. She hopes that by expanding the program’s reach that she will see an significant increase in the number of adult learners this year. The program is aiming for 85 learners for the coming fiscal year.

YWCA Pekin is located at 315 Buena Vista Ave., Pekin. For more literacy program information, visit www.ywcapekin.org.