“It started with people coming by and seeing the sign,” O’Neill said. “They would stop at the thrift store next door and would see that it was a literacy center so they would stop and ask about it.”
And so the need for volunteers and tutors grew. Brunner not only had the sisters from Precious Blood tutoring but also began to bring in retired professionals and former and current teachers.
“It just mushroomed from there,” O’Neill said. “We have seen almost 800 different people who have come in for tutoring and have a steady roster now of 130 tutors.”
Brunner serves clients with a variety of literacy needs, from people who have no ability to read to those who know simple words and basic math. The center also serves refugees who can’t speak English and want to learn conversational English and need help finding employment. They also help people prepare for GED testing.
“Our center is great for people who need a little extra help and who have not done well in a classroom setting,” O’Neill said. “We have at least one tutor assigned to every client so they get that individual personal touch and we try to tailor and customize what we do for each client that comes in.”
O’Neill has spent the past 16 years of her professional career working at the University of Dayton and was able to retire from that job in 2015. At that point she said she was looking for an opportunity to serve the needy in the community.
“I didn’t have a specific opportunity in mind,” she said. “I could retire but I had one more move in me, so I spotted the job at Brunner and I realized that literacy affects everything we do – your ability to provide for your family and teach your children – your ability to read a prescription and read street signs. It was extraordinary to me the impact the Brunner Literacy Center was having.”
So much so that the center has received inquiries about opening other locations throughout Dayton and will soon have at least three in other parts of town, the first scheduled to open at the Bennett J. Cooper Criminal Justice Complex this month. Others will include two Catholic Social Services locations, one on Brown Street serving refugees recently relocating to the United States and the other on Riverview serving food pantry clients who need to learn the basics of reading, writing and math up to a sixth-grade level.
“I came at a time when we had four years of history and were trying to develop more policies and procedures,” O’Neill said. “We now have so many wonderful opportunities and of course have said ‘yes’ to them. I’m not sure how we can do it all or pay for it all, and I think these requests will happen more frequently because literacy is foundational. Without it, everything is much harder.”
For more information about the Brunner Literacy Center and upcoming events you can support including the annual 5K Walk/Run on Oct. 29, log on to brunnerliteracy.org