Each One Teach One

Yasmin Tomkinson steers the Cape Fear Literacy Council


It’s called the silent epidemic. One in six adults struggles with reading.

YASMIN TOMKINSON, executive director of the Cape Fear Literacy Council (CFLC), drives the mission to provide personalized education so adults can transform their lives and contribute to a stronger community.

“Low literacy among adults is an underlying factor in almost every social issue: unemployment and underemployment; children’s academic prospects; incarceration rates; drug and alcohol abuse; high health care costs,” Tomkinson says.

Tomkinson’s journey to executive director traversed the United States. After attending Vassar College, studying education and American history, she joined Volunteers in Service to America.

“I lived in a small Utah town near Navajo and Ute Indian reservations. My first day, tumbleweeds rolled down the street. I wondered what I had just committed to! But, it turned out to be an incredible year, learning about different communities and cultures. I began to understand the kind of work that I found rewarding,” she recalls.

Subsequently, Tomkinson traveled across the county working with various nonprofits including California Campus Contact in Los Angeles and the Abell Foundation improving the quality of life in her hometown, Baltimore. During and after attending Boston University for her MBA concentrating in nonprofit management, she worked for Citizen Schools, focusing on after-school enrichment for at-risk children, and for Jump Start, placing college students at Head Start Centers to help preschoolers become kindergarten-ready.

Tomkinson moved to Wilmington in 2002 to escape the Boston cold. She started to volunteer at CFLC in the one-on-one tutoring program. Eventually hired, Tomkinson became responsible for the Adult Literacy Program.

“I really loved that role,” she says. “It was challenging and very inspiring. I enjoyed working closely with adult learners and volunteer instructors.”

Ten years later, when asked to take on the role of executive director, Tomkinson’s first reaction was, “No way! I’m a program person.”

But, after some coaxing from the outgoing director and a consult with her parents, she boldly stepped up to the role.

Looking back, she says, “It was a steep learning curve. I’m grateful for my program experience because it made the operational side much more meaningful.”

CFLC, a grassroots nonprofit incorporated in 1985 and first led by BILLIE GRANGER, who worked in a mill with many who struggled to read, has grown into an organization providing services to 500 adult learners annually. It is run by three full-time and five part-time staff plus two hundred instructional volunteers and a volunteer board of directors.

CFLC offers adult literacy, English as a second language, and the newest program on digital literacy called Computers on Wheels (COWs.)

“I love our spirit of each one teach one. We work with adults who have real-life needs, individual challenges, and strengths,” Tomkinson says. “CFLC tailors instruction, delivering personalized education. As adults’ skills and confidence increase, there is a ripple effect through families, jobs, and community.”

COVID-19 brought challenges as well as great outcomes. Transportation, child care, and scheduling barriers were removed from students who could use technology when CFLC moved to distance learning. For visual and kinesthetic learners and those without technology, keeping up by phone has been challenging.

“Those who are most in need also have the most problems with distance learning,” Tomkinson says. “We look forward to being able to meet face-to-face again because the personal connections make CFLC most effective.”

Reflecting back on 2019, Tomkinson comments, “Our progress metrics are great, our student population is very diverse, and COWs is growing rapidly.”

This year marks the thirty-fifth birthday of CFLC, calling for celebration and big future plans. “CFLC will continue to make a difference, one person at a time,” Tomkinson says. “We want to reconnect with many students as possible, grow our tailored English classes for companies, expand delivery of our cultural sensitivity and communication strategies workshop, and expand the digital literacy program.”

CFLC is also developing a legacy gifts program for financial contributions.

“Cape Fear Literacy Council is part of the fabric of Wilmington’s nonprofit sector,” Tomkinson says. “We feel fortunate to be in a community that is small enough that we can be personally connected, but big enough to have organizational possibilities.”

Go to cfliteracy.org or email info@cfliteracy.org for volunteer opportunities.

To view more of photographer Michael Cline Spencer’s work, go to michaelclinephoto.com.

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Categories: Women to Watch