OCALS rebuilding program after being shut down for several months in pandemic

By Ginny Kropf, correspondent Posted 22 September 2021 at 9:13 pm

Photos by Ginny Kropf: From left, Terry Novak, her parents Don and Rose Ruck and tutor Barb Dunham chat before OCALS annual meeting Tuesday night. Novak and her husband Kevin and her sister and husband Donna and Shane Seyler have been annual financial supporters of OCALS. They were presented with Key Contributor awards.

MILLVILLE – Orleans County Adult Learning Services met at the Millville United Methodist Church Tuesday night to conduct their annual meeting and recognize those who supported them during the past year.

“It was a tough year,” said Don Colquhoun, vice president and treasurer of OCALS.  “When the pandemic hit in March 2020, we had 41 tutors serving 130 to 140 students in schools and adults one-on-one. When everything shut down, we were instructed by the Health Department to close shop. We provided no services after March 1. We shut down and waited for things to change. They did in October. Schools were still closed, but libraries and restaurants opened with restrictions. However, the vast majority of our tutors wouldn’t risk infecting themselves and others. We got a few to come back, and now we’re back to 16 active tutors.”

Colquhoun said they are still not allowed in schools, but they have an agreement with all Orleans County schools they can be back in October.

“We are capable and ready to serve individuals now,” Colquhoun said.

Appreciation went to tutors, supporters and those who funded OCALS during the past year. This included the Lyndonville Area Foundation, which granted OCALS $4,000, and United Way, which has funded OCALS for 10 years.

“We struggle with funding,” Colquhoun said. “Very few grantors will fund operations. They only fund programs which are usually time limited.”

Colquhoun pointed out that OCALS provided more than 1,200 units of service to more than 135 people in 2019.

In the coming year, OCALS is poised to participate in the Digital Divide Initiative, for which United Way recently secured a $346,000 grant. As part of this program, OCALS has three tutors who will be trained as mentors to teach Orleans County residents how to purchase electronics, set them up and use them.

Colquhoun also explained the program will provide Internet at a 50% reduction in cost, and internet hot spots throughout the county for those who cannot afford the reduced cost.

President Nicole Goodrich acknowledged Don and Rose Ruck of Byron, who were instrumental in founding OCALS in 2006.

“This year has been like no other,” Goodrich said. “It makes our ability to reach our students very difficult.”

She also thanked the volunteers, tutors and board of directors for their support as the organization continues to grow. She said they plan to continue their partnerships with Medina, Newfane and Holley schools. She thanked United Way of Orleans County for the $5,000 in funding they provided and said she hoped another $5,000 would be forthcoming when they are fully up and running again.

From left, charter member of OCALS Mary Lee Knights, secretary and program coordinator Pam Schuner and president Nicole Goodrich talk before the start of OCALS annual meeting.

Colquhoun said OCALS was one of the first agencies to approach United Way and request help from the new grant writer, who was recently hired through a grant United Way secured. He added referrals were beginning to pick up again as Covid restrictions are lifted.

A vote was held to elect the 2021-22 slate of officers as follows: president, Nicole Goodrich; vice president and treasurer, Don Colquhoun; secretary, Pam Schuner; and three-year board members, Nicole Goodrich, Georgia Thomas and Carolyn Wagner.

The program which followed consisted of a presentation by Barb Dunham on Family Literacy: Community-based; Family Literacy: School-based; remarks by literacy specialist, Mary Lee Knights; Workplace Literacy by Don Colquhoun; and Personnel by Carolyn Wagner.

Schuner unveiled the agency’s new website, which she developed.

Tutors who have participated in the OCALS program from Sept. 1, 2020 through Aug. 31 are Neveen Boulous, Ann Czajkowski, Adrienne Daniels, Mary Lee Knights, Ann McElwee, Barbara LaBell, Barbara Hancock, Carl Husung, Barbara Dunham, Ellen Goheen, Mark Goheen, Michele Raines, Paul Raines Jr., Healther Rowley, Dick Hellert, Penny Nice, Vicki Streiff and Amber Kipler.

Those who were recognized for their dedicated participation during the pandemic are Adrienne Daniels, Carl Husung, Barbara LaBelle and Ann McElwee.

Other certificates of appreciation were presented to United Way of Orleans County, the Lyndonville Foundation and Millville United Methodist Church.

Kevin and Terry Novak and Shane and Donna Seyler were presented Key Contributor awards.