Hailing from Whitesboro, New York, Jessica Staley ’14 was “eager to learn more about the area that I am from” when she became a Field School Fellow for the first time this summer. Through her fellowship with the Madison County Literacy Coalition (MCLC), she has channeled her growing marketing and public relations skills into the promotion of the coalition’s new early childhood literacy initiative, the Dolly Parton Imagination Library, which is an international effort to ensure all children have access to books regardless of their family’s income. Jessica hopes that her creation of posters, games, and school reports will “help more people understand what the coalition does for the county,” as well as “what programs are available to its citizens who may not already be aware of them.”
According to the MCLC’s “Literacy Needs Assessment for Madison County,” ten percent of Madison County’s 70,197 residents function below basic literacy levels. This means they operate with the most simple and concrete literacy skills. The mission of the MCLC is to provide Madison County residents with literacy programs for people across the lifespan so that the county reaches 100% literacy. In order to materialize that vision, which led the MCLC to be named a national finalist in the All-America City Campaign for Grade-Level Reading last summer, Jessica has been accompanying Jay Dunn, the MCLC’s Executive Director, to meetings and events across Madison County. Through interactions with executive board members, managing partners, and schools not yet participating in the Dolly Parton Imagination Library, she has learned “how to execute marketing plans efficiently, as well as how to effectively network.” Jessica is regularly updating the MCLC’s Facebook page and recently finished compiling reports for Madison County’s ten public school districts to demonstrate the impact and importance of investing in the MCLC’s programs.
In addition to her desire to learn more about her home region, Jessica wanted to become a Field School Fellow to better understand “the organizations around me that I never even knew existed.” She now has a grasp of how nonprofits function in a community and “how much they can really provide for their area of outreach.” Jessica sees that steady daily efforts lead to tangible differences in people’s lives and that improving an individual’s literacy “can be one of the first steps in turning their lives around.” She hopes to participate in community-based research on a more global scale in the future and will carry her experiences with the MCLC and Upstate Institute as she works in Central New York and beyond!