Nonprofit Spotlight: Triangle Literacy Council

Lei “Kevin” Shi and Don Hiller, a volunteer with the Triangle Literacy Council, have been meeting for language tutoring sessions twice a week for three years. The two men have become friends, sharing interests in food and travel.

Lei “Kevin” Shi had moved from China to Cary, and he was determined to learn English and to better understand American culture. Donald Hiller, a volunteer tutor with the Triangle Literacy Council, was waiting for his next student.

In February 2017, the two men met for their first English as a second language tutoring session. Three years later, Shi and Hiller continue to meet for one-on-one classes twice a week at Genesis United Methodist Church in Cary.

“I like living here, but I know if you want to have a better life with everything, you need to learn the language and culture, the laws and life skills,” said the 55-year-old Shi. “I enjoy learning English from Don and also about the American culture and history. I have learned a lot, and I feel relaxed and comfortable during our classes to ask questions and speak.”

Kevin Shi and his wife enjoy the outdoors and travel frequently throughout the United States. “I think Kevin and his wife are very fortunate that they get out and see things. They visit places, and they are both learning more about the culture,” says Don Hiller.

Shi is among the increasing number of people taking advantage of the Adult Basic Education and ESL classes offered by the Literacy Council. Most of those seeking ESL classes are from Asia and Latin America.

“It’s been very satisfying over the years. I’ve had a wide variety of students,” said Hiller, who has been volunteering with TLC for 30 years and is also a member of the nonprofit’s board. “I feel good that I’m helping someone learn to appreciate where they live and become more of a citizen of this country with the responsibilities and the obligations.”

Since 1970, the TLC has been providing free tutoring for adults and youth to improve their reading, writing and speaking skills. Last year, the nonprofit served more than 600 adults and 1,200 young people through its programs.

“This organization is doing so many good things,” said Laura Walters, TLC president and CEO. “It’s not just improving people’s lives on an individual level, but it improves the community because these people are learning how to be productive citizens.”

Worksheets and workbooks help Shi improve his reading and writing skills. Since 1970, the Triangle Literacy Council has provided free English tutors for adults and youth. TLC is the oldest literacy organization in North Carolina, and this year is the nonprofit’s 50th anniversary.

One of the group’s early efforts was to establish ESL classes for immigrants. In 2009, the Literacy Council added a Juvenile Literacy Center to provide academic tutoring and life skills training for youths referred through the Department of Juvenile Justice or by a local agency. The nonprofit now also provides instruction to students at Polk Correctional Institution in Butner, and through its Education Advocacy Project, academic tutors are matched with foster children in Wake County. Recently the nonprofit partnered with Habitat for Humanity of Durham on Bull City YouthBuild, which enables at-risk youth to earn their high school equivalency and learn on-the-job construction skills.

“It’s been really exciting to see the organization evolve and grow,” said Walters. “We want to help improve people’s lives — believe, read, achieve.”

Coming Soon

The Triangle Literacy Council and the Kramden Institute will host the Triangle Esports Championship, Feb. 7-9, at the Herb Young Community Center in Cary. Amateur and professional players are invited to compete for cash and prizes in tournaments including Fortnite, Rocket League, Super Smash Bros. Ultimate and Street Fighter. Tickets are $30 for a one-day pass, $55 for a two-day pass and $150 for a VIP pass.

For more information about the Triangle Literacy Council and its programs, visit

In February, the nonprofit will host the Triangle Esports Championship at the Herb Young Community Center in Cary. The fundraiser, a partnership with the Kramden Institute, is expected to attract 1,600 video-game playing participants and esports enthusiasts, and a fundraising goal is set at $100,000. Last year’s sold-out event raised $50,000.

“The Triangle Literacy Council and Kramden Institute are long-time partners providing digital and literacy resources to the community to improve educational, workforce and life-skills development,” said Walters, who has been with TLC for 18 years. “The proceeds from this event will allow us to expand our services and provide more opportunities for adults, youth and children in our community to flourish.”

Hiller and Shi’s relationship is one of the nonprofit’s many transformative success stories.

Shi works as a handyman for a local property management company, and his wife, Lifang “Lisa” Xu, works as a nurse at UNC Hospital in Chapel Hill. The couple are outdoor enthusiasts, enjoying hiking, biking, camping, fishing and boating at Jordan Lake. They also frequently travel throughout the United States.

“I think Kevin and his wife are very fortunate that they get out and see things. They visit places, and they are both learning more about the culture. I’ve had students who don’t go anywhere and tend to socialize only among people who just speak their native language,” said Hiller, who is from Cary.

Hiller and Shi have not only developed a good teaching and learning relationship, but with many interests in common, they have also formed a lasting friendship.

“We are both learning from each other, and we enjoy sharing with each other our travel experiences and what we have done,” said Hiller. “We are both interested in learning — and trying different food!”

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