This site is intended to help connect the growing number of agencies serving elder immigrants and refugees with resources that enhance effective literacy programs.

Across the country, many community centers and nonprofit organizations are reaching an underserved population — low-literate elders. These organizations are in a perfect position to connect volunteer tutors with elders who are learning to read for the first time in a second language.

The CommonBond Communities Literacy Curriculum is a resource designed for these organizations that are looking for a way to connect low-literate elder students and volunteers with learning materials that are meaningful and effective. Our materials and activities are informed by best practices in adult education, Minnesota Literacy Council training materials, Transitions Integration Framework (TIF), and the Massachusetts ABE Basic Literacy standards. You can request a free digital copy of the curriculum here.

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The Elder Literacy Initiative is a grassroots movement started in St Paul, MN, with the goal to serve pre-literate elder refugees living in affordable housing complexes. Many elder refugees from Somalia and Ethiopia, as well as recent arrivals from Burma and Bhutan, have made the Twin Cities their home. Oftentimes, elder refugees from these countries have not had the opportunity to go to school in their home country or learn to read in their first language, and so they are described as pre-literate English language learners. For many elders, it can be very difficult to attend school off-site due to limited mobility, lack of transportation, or health issues. In spite of these challenges, their vitality of mind and remarkable spirit cannot be ignored. The Elder Literacy Initiative sought to honor their dedication to learning by developing a curriculum specifically for low-literate elders. This curriculum is free and can be used anywhere there is even just one volunteer and one elder, thereby sidestepping the common barrier of not having a licensed teacher or sufficient learning materials for students at this level.

The CommonBond Communities Literacy Curriculum guidelines were first developed in 2013 by Lisa Vogl of CommonBond Communities and Burgen Young of the Minnesota Literacy Council, with significant contributions in material creation from Missy Staloch, a student intern from the University of Minnesota. This curriculum was designed for volunteer tutors to use in 1:1 settings with low-literate elders, but can be used with any adult learner, and many of the activities can be adapted for use in small group or classroom settings.

The curriculum includes 12 units across themes which are meaningful to elders and adults. With the help of contacts at Experience Works and Senior Community Service Employment Program (SCSEP), an additional unit titled Working in the US was included to complement the goals of elders with limited English proficiency who are interested in finding paid employment.