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7 Questions – Patricia M. Donnelly (Literacy Council of Northern Virginia)

Many Catalogue cheers for today’s “7 Questions” guest … Patricia M. Donnelly, Executive Director of the Literacy Council of Northern Virginia. Serving an area where 120 different languages are spoken, the LCNV offers adult education in reading, writing, speaking, and understanding English to over 2,300 students a year.

Interested in learning more? Read onwards … and, swing by “Reading: A Family Affair” on Saturday, March 19 from 9:30 AM – 2:30 PM in Falls Church. Kids can meet Clifford the Big Red Dog, watch the Bob Brown Puppets, learn origami, write and illustrate their own stories, and then take home a free book!

1. What was your most interesting recent project, initiative, partnership, or event?

The Literacy Council initiated Reading: A Family Affair just a few years ago. Compared to fundraising dinners with live and silent auctions, this event is family-friendly and free, brings books to life with the help of local artists, and (most importantly) open to the Literacy Council’s clients. The event is designed for them. The fundraising comes from Corporate and small business sponsorships, who are willing and eager to see a community-based, free, literacy event in their neighborhood. And it’s a lot of fun!

2. What else are you up to?

The Literacy Council of Northern Virginia is an organization open to change. LCNV has been around for 49 years, and we grow and change with the needs of the community. Our original mission of teaching adults to read, changed to teaching adults to read, write, speak and understand English with the change in demographics in the Northern Virginia region. LCNV added a Family Literacy Program as the ESOL population continued to grow and Family Literacy programs were proven to be effective for both children and their parents. Recently, we have seen an increase in adult learners with learning challenges or difficulties. Rather than turn adults away, LCNV is developing its Basic Literacy Program to include resources and training to work with adults who might have learning challenges. LCNV will continue to grow to serve the beginning-level literacy and language adult learner, meeting them where they are with what they need.

3. Is there a moment, person, or event that inspired you to do this particular work?

I’ve always wanted to work in the non-profit sector, and always have. My career path has included working for conservation organizations, performing arts organizations, social justice think tanks, and education. I can’t think of any one person who inspired me, but a call to do service and contribute to quality of life issues was just a part of my Catholic Social Teaching up-bringing.

4. Who is your hero in the nonprofit/philanthropy world?

My nonprofit world heroes are pretty local. People that come immediately to mind are people with whom I have worked who have been good leaders, good role models, and good friends to me since I have been in this position. I think of Kerrie Wilson of Reston Interfaith, and Diane Charles, formerly of SCAN of Northern Virginia.

5. What is the single greatest (and non-financial) challenge to the work that you do every day?

Balancing all the competing needs and growth opportunities with limited resources is a challenge. It seems at times there will never be enough money or enough time or enough people to achieve what needs to be done for adult education in our community. The stress of prioritizing and decision-making can be exhausting.

6. What advice do you have for other people who want to work in your field?

Believe in the mission. Listen to the stories of the people you serve. You will confirm both the need for your service as well as the change you are bringing to people?s lives. Their stories and successes make all the challenges worth it.

7. What’s next?

Pay attention and stay open to what is out there, both as an individual and as a visionary leader for your organization. For the Literacy Council, we have seized partnership opportunities like Connections for Hope for program expansion. We have strengthened our position in the continuum of adult education by filling a gap left open by other adult education providers. As a professional, I have listened to my colleagues, joined regional network groups, and participated in leadership development opportunities. Who knows what’s next? By staying open and interested, something exciting is bound to happen.

EXTRA: If you could have a power breakfast with any three people (living, dead, or fictional) who would they be?

Hillary Clinton, for her incredible world-perspective of leadership, and her life-time commitment to public service.

Katherine Graham, for her courage and acumen in successfully running a big business as a woman and blazing a trail for the rest of us. (And for her knowledge of Washington DC history.)

Dorothy Day, for living the message of Catholic Social Teaching through years of service and the establishment of the Catholic Worker movement.

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