The Literacy Council and the RSVP form the dream planning team – Mainline Media News

When Eileen Hallstrom became executive director of the Norristown Literacy Council last June, change was in the air.

Eileen Hallstrom

“We have started coming out of the pandemic,” she said. “New members have joined our council. When we looked at our previous strategic plan, we realized that it needed to be updated. “

The board serves approximately 300 adults each year in the greater Norristown area of ​​Montgomery County. About 200 learn English as a Second Language (ESL). Others receive basic education in reading, writing, and math.

Hallstrom and other top executives wanted to expand family literacy by providing programs for parents while their children receive reading support. But how do they get there?

Ron Havel

The strategic plan “is a roadmap of where you want your organization to go,” RSVP Chairman Ron Havel said.

The RSVP, which connects Philadelphia volunteers with community service opportunities, has helped dozens of area nonprofits through its Volunteer Executive Advisers (VECs). The group has 26 active projects aimed at strategic planning, board development, fundraising, management, marketing and communications.

“VEC is highly recommended,” Hallstrom said.

In her previous jobs, most recently as Director of Strategic Initiatives of the Youth Labor Center, Hallström worked on several strategic plans.

“Getting outside help in creating a plan can cost from $ 30,000 to $ 50,000,” she said. “And what you come up with in the end may not push your organization forward.”

VEC services are free for non-profit organizations.

Strong team

After Hallstrom contacted the RSVP, VEC program manager Gray Vilna Burke asked Havel to lead a strategic planning team for the Norristan Literacy Study Group. Havel, a retired senior manager of Lockheed Martin, has led about 75 projects over 15 years of volunteering at the VEC in addition to chairing the RSVP board.

Howell and Burke selected four of the 60 VEC volunteers, most of them retirees and professionals, to help the literacy board.

“We looked at marketing, finance, programs and management,” Holstrom said. “In each area there was a champion in the VEC group and we were able to focus on each topic in turn. They were very, not nonsense. We quickly came to the important thing. “

The VEC team included retired Jane Fort, who was head of the trade association; Barry Stein, Ph.D., formerly invested in technology and an advanced computer researcher; Melissa Rodkin, who was IKEA’s supply chain manager and financial administrator; and Stan Worcester, former vice president of intelligence systems at Lockheed Martin.

As for the Norristown Literacy Council, Cliff Hearst, chairman of the board, “really led our council through this process,” Holstrom said. “He took the lead in making everyone understand the process and making sure it went smoothly.”

In the blink of an eye

“We received the request in September and finished in four months,” Havel said. “I was so impressed with the Norristown Literacy Council team. They came with extensive goals and details on how to get to them. It was amazing. They are some of the best clients I have ever worked with. ”

Havel pays special tribute to Hallstrom and Hirst, longtime administrators of the Norisstavna Public Library.

“The plan added specificity and context to what the center is doing,” said Elaine Green, an ESL lecturer and member of the strategic planning team of the board.

She is also a VEC volunteer and former chair of the Philadelphia Literacy Center.

“We have developed a plan based on a SWOT analysis that examines strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats,” she said.

“In the blink of an eye we had a strategic plan and it was really good,” Hallstrom said. “It gives flight to our programs and our mission. It’s a lot of energy now. “

She said the new initiative of the Family Literacy Council includes a library area, “where people can come and get free books. Having books in the house can make a big difference, and an adult is 90% more likely to achieve literacy goals if family members are involved in their learning. ”

“The plan includes educating parents while kindergarten teaches their children, with joint parent-child programs,” Green said.

Meanwhile, the ESL Council program has helped “many Afghan refugees” and “we are just beginning to help Ukrainian refugees” learn English, working in partnership with the Center for National Services and other organizations and churches, Hallström said.

“It’s going to be very busy,” she said.

We need volunteers

Burke said the VEC “can always use more volunteers, especially with skills in strategic and business planning, fundraising, marketing and communications.”

Former National Volunteer Director of the American Lung Association and now a volunteer liaison consultant, Burke said that “because the VEC’s role is largely in training and counseling, the best VECs are those who listen well, build teams and deals with the problem. decision makers ”.

She added that “many of our clients are very small organizations. Most have a budget of less than $ 300,000. Therefore, it is important to be able to master the skills gained in large business environments and modify them for small organizations with limited resources. We provide some of this training during our adaptation process. Volunteers with experience in managing nonprofits can be especially helpful. ”

“We need more volunteers in the Norristown Literacy Council,” Holstrom said. “We are looking for adults who are willing to work with other adults, relatively culturally savvy, usually have a college education, are kind and willing to help someone with their educational goals. RSVP has sent us some of our best volunteers. They are usually very well trained. “

For information on VEC RSVP, literacy and many other programs, email or 610-834-1040, ext.123. Nonprofits requesting assistance from VEC management may visit Non-profit organizations can visit:

To explore the possibilities of volunteers on the Literacy Council, contact Katie Stoker at

VEC Workshop

RSVP offers free virtual workshops for nonprofits. The last spring seminar of 2022 “Strategies to increase the activity of your board of directors” will take place on May 24 from 10 to 11:30 via Zoom.

“Dedicated advice is crucial to success in all aspects of your nonprofit organization,” said VEC Program Manager Gray Vilna Burke.

The workshop will be led by RSVP Chairman Ron Havel and Board Member Gene David, a retired senior corporate strategist. For more information and to register, visit

RSVP’s nonprofit programs improve the lives of vulnerable populations by focusing on education and well-being. For information on volunteering visit, by e-mail or by phone 610-834-1040, ext. 123.


Norristown ESL Class Literacy Council

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