Literacy Council of Bay County opens books to open doors

For many, the ability to read is something that is taken for granted, something done without much effort or thought. For others, struggles with literacy stand in the way of success in school, the ability to obtain a job, or effective communication with those around them.

Fortunately for local individuals experiencing these difficulties, the Literacy Council of Bay County stands ready to help make reading a reality and to help them achieve their life goals.

Since 1986, the Literacy Council has been providing services to both children and adults in Bay County, helping upwards of 2,000 learners in that time, according to the agency’s Facebook page.

Executive Director Kathy Rayner has been at the helm of the organization for 24 years and is extremely passionate about the Council’s impact on the community. Rayner says, “The mission of the LCBC is to enhance the literacy skills of adults, children, and families.”

The Literacy Council provides the training needed to work with children or adults.The Literacy Council is a United Way of Bay County impact partner agency, and also conducts fundraisers throughout the year to make programs and services available free of charge. The United Way of Bay County website has identified literacy as a priority issue for Bay County, stating, “Data from the 2019 Kids Count report shows that 56% of Bay County third graders are not reading proficiently.”

A variety of different programs are offered by the Literacy Council year-round and during summer months, each targeting a specific age-group or need. The program to help adults is open throughout the year and hopes to match any adult who asks for help with a tutor. According to Rayner, the tutor training program completed for adults is 10 to 12 hours and usually broken into three classes.

“Each adult may have a different goal to reach. Life tends to determine how committed to the program each adult is or what barriers they may have such as no transportation or certain family obligations,” says Rayner.

When it comes to children, there are a couple of initiatives available.

From October through May, an after-school tutoring program is offered to students in need of support. In addition, a free summer tutoring program is available for students in grades Kindergarten through third grade who have been identified as being at least a half grade or more behind in either reading or math.

This effort became exponentially more important after the Michigan Legislature passed the “Read by Grade Three Law,” in 2016, which states, “...third graders may repeat third grade if they are more than one grade level behind beginning with the 2019-2020 school year.”

Rayner says, “Our summer program usually starts in April when we contact all elementary schools in the county regarding the specifics of the program. Those schools then inform the teachers who refer parents of the children most in need to our program.”

Beginning in May, appointments are made with the prospective students so assessments can determine which skills each one needs, and tutors can begin to gather the correct materials and strategies needed to work with students.

Tutors then meet with students twice a week over the summer for an hour per session. Rayner explains that parent support is also an essential part of the success of the summer tutoring program. Eventually, a post-assessment is given to determine progress at the end of the summer.

“I must say that during this past summer’s session our determined tutors were able to help eight of our students progress to the next grade who had been threatened with being held back.  Our tutors are the life-blood of this agency – they do the real work,” says Rayner.

In 2021, a total of 19 adults and 57 children were assisted by volunteer tutors of the Literacy Council of Bay County. Anyone willing to help and who can pass a state background check is welcome to tutor, according to Rayner. Many tutors are high school students, college students, or older adults. High school students can earn volunteer hours toward graduation requirements.

The Literacy Council of Bay County partners with the Toni and Trish House for an annual 'Empty Bowls' fundraiser. “Tutor trainings for the youth program are brief and to the point," Rayner explains. "Each student will need specific skills and we can show the tutor how to do that along with 'making the session fun.' I always tell the tutor that they will know more about their student after two sessions than I will.”

Rayner says that being a part of the Council is full of rewarding experiences, both immediate and long after.

“A few weeks ago I would have said that watching individuals succeed and better their own lives and that of their families was very rewarding. But lately it has come to our attention that we have young students who come to us because one of their parents (or other relative) came to us years ago for help and became successful. When you see that our tutors make a difference in more than one generation…that’s rewarding.  That’s why I’m still here and that’s why the Council is still here.”

The Empty Bowls fundraiser includes a soup competition, silent auction, raffles, and more.Her belief in the importance of community-wide literacy is unwavering and part of the reason she has served the Council for so long.

“A more literate community is a more successful community. Wages are better, [and] businesses tend to move into more successful communities. But aside from [that], literacy and the ability to read and comprehend is a quality-of-life issue.”

Anyone interested in being a tutor or receiving services from the Council should call Rayner at (989) 892-5002 or email at

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