OCALS continues mission of providing literacy services to community

By Ginny Kropf, correspondent Posted 21 September 2022 at 8:42 am

Photos by Ginny Kropf: Don Colquhoun, vice president and treasurer of OCALS (Orleans County Accredited Learning Services) presents a plant to outgoing president Nicole Goodrich at their annual meeting Tuesday night.

MILLVILLE – OCALS could certainly be called “The little agency that could.”

Started on a shoestring in 2006 by Don and Rose Ruck with donations from their family, OCALS has survived lack of funding, loss of volunteers and Covid, to emerge more determined than ever to pursue their goal.

The organization originally known as Orleans County Adult Learning Services has recently changed its name to Orleans County Accredited Services to reflect the fact it now serves students as well as adults, and it is nationally accredited.

OCALS held its annual meeting Tuesday night at Millville United Methodist Church. Outgoing president Nicole Goodrich was presented with a plant by vice president and treasurer Don Colquhoun for her years of service.

New board members announced were Pam Schuner, president; Don Colquhoun, vice president; Carolyn Wagner, secretary; and Don Colquhoun as treasurer.

Kathleen Punch of Medina was introduced as the new community engagement coordinator, who will work 40 hours a month planning outreach events to inform the public of the services OCALS provides.

Punch is an educator who has taught kindergarten through 12th grade during her 20 years of teaching. She taught Spanish in Florida, before moving back to Medina in 1995. She is fluent in Spanish and plans to put that to use to bring in more clients from the Spanish population.

“We are very fortunate to have her,” said Carolyn Wagner, who worked with Colquhoun in the search to fill the position.

Goodrich introduced new board member Julie Keller, who has taught for 26 years in Albion. She is real passionate about literacy and is interested in becoming a tutor, as well, Goodrich said.

Barb Dunham, who heads the Family Literacy Program, reported a new program has been started at Intergrow in Gaines, with six students from there, including one from Italy and one from Puerto Rico.

Carolyn Wagner, left, stands with OCALS new community engagement coordinator Kathleen Punch of Medina, who was introduced at OCALS annual meeting.

They still have not gone back into Lyndonville schools or Iroquois Job Corps, Dunham said. She said restrictions from Covid have not been fully lifted.

Colquhoun said as soon as things are back to normal, OCALS will be providing tutoring in all five Orleans County schools.

Dean Bellack, executive director of United Way of Orleans County, was introduced. He explained his agency’s mission and shared their efforts in acquiring grants for several organizations in the county, totaling more than $700,000.

A grant last year was for more than $340,000 for Orleans County’s Digital Divide Initiative, in an effort to provide high speed internet to all areas of the county, train people who are not familiar with the Internet and provide computers to families who can’t afford them. OCALS has committed to provide three mentors for the program.

Colquhoun said in spite of the stumbling blocks along the way, OCALS has managed to increase its number of tutors, students and units of service.

Colquhoun said beside Covid, the biggest hit to OCALS was the reduction in United Way funding from $10,000 to $4,000. He vowed the agency this year was determined to accomplish four things to help raise money:

  • Hold a book sale, which they did during the Lions’ annual Community Yard Sale in June, raising $230.
  • Have a basket raffle, which they did in July at Case-Nic Cookies, earning $780.
  • Have a bake sale in conjunction with Mary Lee Knights pumpkin sale next month.
  • Make a direct appeal to supporters.

The evening concluded with recognizing Barb LaBelle as “Tutor of the Year.”

“She has the most hours working with students,” Goodrich said.

Anyone wishing to volunteer as a tutor or request services can contact OCALS by calling (585) 590-1292 or logging on to their website.