Aquinas Literacy Center seeks new location
February 3, 2017

The Aquinas Literacy Center provides a valuable service by offering a variety of classes to the community.

The Aquinas Literacy Center at 3540 S. Hermitage Ave. celebrated its 20th anniversary last year, but just before the holidays the Archdiocese of Chicago informed management it would not renew the center’s lease because it wants the space for parish ministries. The literacy center must leave the Blessed Sacrament Parish complex by June 30.

The center offers a variety of services, predominantly for Latino adults, including one-on-one English as second language classes, a computer learning center where students use the Rosetta Stone program to learn English, and small group classes in which students can practice their conversation skills. It also provides book clubs, writing classes, grammar classes, and help with the U.S. citizenship test.

Although the center is a Catholic organization sponsored by the Adrian Dominican Sisters and housed in a former convent, it receives no funding from the Archdiocese.

It relies on grants, donations, and volunteers. Last year, 150 people volunteered their services. Management’s biggest concern with the move is preventing disruption for clients. “That’s something we’re processing and having conversations with our board of directors about, and we’re also in conversations with our volunteers about how to move forward,” said Alison Altmeyer, the center’s executive director.

The Aquinas Literacy Center provides a valuable service by offering a variety of classes to the community.

“Our goal is to remain here in the McKinley Park area because we offer stability in an underserved community,” Altmeyer added. “We are hoping and praying that we will be able to find something that’s affordable, that suits our ministry, that is conducive to our program participants right here locally. If we have to move to a new community, we are open to moving to a new community that can use our services.”

She noted the center’s record of success in helping students overcome their struggle with the language barrier. Many tell staff about how they can communicate better with physicians without needing a translator or can speak to their children’s teachers about their schoolwork after using the center’s services.

Students who have graduated from the center also can get better jobs and become U.S. citizens. One student had been at the same job for 20 years without being promoted, but once she took English classes at Aquinas, she obtained a promotion.

Altmeyer said having to move has prompted center personnel to think about a larger space. “We just find that our program is thriving and growing every day and this space isn’t adequate for what we do,” she explained.

Still, the news came as a surprise to staff and students. “I think people are in shock because we’ve been here for 20 years,” Altmeyer said. “We are needed in this community and are valued in this community.

“We feel that we are a beacon of hope for this community,” she continued. “One thing I can promise is for our students to not give up hope, because there is hope in whatever we decide in the future.”

For more information, visit www.aquinasliteracycenter.org. The Archdiocese of Chicago did not respond to requests for comment.

— Ivette Sandoval