Virginia Schantz never imagined she would lead a reading program. In 1985, she was working as a reference librarian at the Greenville Public Library when the Library Board asked her to investigate a new federal initiative for developing adult literacy programs. She accepted the task and the program got its start.
Virginia eventually became the program director, first as a volunteer, until federal funds covered a modest salary. The goal of the program was to meet with adults on their time using materials they needed for their life situations. She recognized adult learners required a customized experience based on their interests and needs. “They have jobs, they are married, have families, own businesses, etc. They are successful in life. It is amazing how they manage so well.” And when people are given the opportunity to learn, they are empowered. Virginia recalls, “I remember interviewing a new student. I asked him to tell me about the things he enjoyed and I wrote it down. When I read it back to him, his face lit up and he exclaimed ‘Wow, that sounds pretty good! I didn’t know I could do that!’ That story in his own words became the basis for his lessons with a tutor, learning to recognize the words he spoke.”
Virginia discovered adult illiteracy was a hidden problem in communities, but through local newspaper ads, radio publicity, and word of mouth, people heard about MARC and began calling the library. To her, it appeared they felt hopeful and safe coming to a library setting. MARC emphasized privacy, discretion and confidentiality. The program grew as adults enrolled for this free service and volunteer tutors were trained. Later on, the English as a Second Language (ESL) component was added and the program expanded to include all of Montcalm County.
At 83, Virginia is now retired and stays busy volunteering, swimming, and travelling. She dedicated 10 years to building the MARC program before moving on to retirement. Her work in the beginning established MARC’s foundation and has grown to provide free literacy services to the community for 35 years.