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Towne Salute: Lisa Vernon & Staff of Anne Arundel County Literacy Council

Nov 28, 2017 12:14PM ● By Nicole Gould

Left to Right. (Front Row) JoAnn Cook, Lisa Vernon, Dr. Perinaaz Gandhi. (Back row) Jane Seiss, Emily Clement, Patti Durst, Jill Mischo. Missing: Database Administrators Bruce Phillips and Dan Milleville; Math Coordinator Susann Felton.

By Nicole Gould

The key to a successful nonprofit organization requires effective leadership, dedicated volunteers, and community support. The Anne Arundel County Literacy Council (AACLC) combines all three to transform lives through the doorway of literacy.

What started from a group of six women who saw the need for free one–on–one literacy instruction has blossomed into a successful nonprofit organization with over 220 volunteers helping thousands of people.

“We have really grown by leaps and bounds,” Executive Director Lisa Vernon admits. “It’s such an incredible organization.”

Vernon joined the Literacy Council in 2011 as the Tutor Coordinator after her daughter was having trouble reading at a young age. After taking her to the library three times a week, her daughter later graduated with a degree in English Literature.

“You can’t do it any better than one–on–one,” Vernon admits. “The most rewarding thing is to help someone.”

After performing her duties as the Tutor Coordinator for a year, she became the AACLC Director in 2012 and continues to serve today. Under her leadership, tutor-student matches have increased from 27 to 223.

AACLC has received the Top-Rated Great Nonprofit Award for their 114 top reviews from volunteers and students from 2012 through 2017. They also earned the Gold Star rating from GuideStar for financial transparency.

In 2015, the AACLC was given the Martha Woods Leadership Award in honor of providing free, individualized tutoring to 25 residents of the Housing Authority of the City of Annapolis (HACA) over two years, preparing them to take the GED, and raising their potential level of self-sufficiency.

In 2016, 223 students (at least 16 years of age or officially dropped out of school) were provided with free assessments, books, and individualized tutoring while volunteers mentored more than 13,000 total hours.

“We have the most amazing, dedicated group of women and men volunteering for the Literacy Council,” Vernon says. “Volunteers are the backbone of the AACLC’s tutoring program.”

Student coordinator, JoAnn Cook, joined the AACLC in 2013. Cook communicates directly with students to bring them into the AACLC tutoring program, trains and communicates with accessors and coordinates student assessments, and assists in creating student-tutor matches, among other things.

“The most rewarding part about being involved with the Literacy Council is twofold,” Cook says. “I believe the tutors, volunteers, leadership, and board members are the finest group of people I have ever worked with in my life. The other part, of course, is our students.”

Jane Seiss, the Literacy Tutor Coordinator, communicates directly with tutors to provide ongoing tutor support, assists in creating, documenting, and supporting new student-tutor matches, and works with the Tutor Training Coordinator on new tutor training and workshops.

The Database Administrator, Bruce Phillips, oversees the data analysis for student and tutor data while the Information Coordinator, Patti Durst, records student-tutor information into the database.

Under the direction of Vernon, the AACLC developed the ESL (English as a Second Language) and math tutoring programs.

Both Dr. Perinaaz Gandhi and Susann Felton have been math tutors with the AACLC since 2015, helping to train over 40 other volunteers in math tutoring. The AACLC’s new math tutoring program has required additional curriculum and assessment developing, record-keeping, tutor support, community outreach, and tutor recruitment.

“Having participated in an adult literacy program while pursuing my undergraduate education in Mumbai, India, I knew the value such programs have as well as their transformational impact on peoples’ lives,” Gandhi explains. “Additionally, coming from the academic world, I wanted to share my love of education with those who have not received the learning opportunities that I have been fortunate enough to receive.”

Volunteers are expected to spend two to three hours a week tutoring students, but according to Vernon, they spend much more time help these individuals succeed.

“What we look for in a volunteer is that they have a love for reading or math,” Vernon explains. “They are a life-long learner and want to give back to another person as well as their community. If they have those qualifications, they can be a fabulous tutor and that’s really what we look for.”

For more information on the AACLC, visit 

Do you have a volunteer to nominate? Email Nicole Gould at or fill out the online form here.