As winter slows the pace of outdoor efforts at Fabbioli Cellars in Leesburg, a group of workers gathers each Monday to participate in a two-hour job-site literacy training program developed by the Loudoun Literacy Council.
The students come from two crews of vineyard workers, one crew based at the Fabbioli operation on Limestone School Road, and one that helps out at many of the other vineyards in the area. The curriculum, created by the literacy council with input from the Fabbioli management team, covers language and concepts related to the students' work assignments.
Doug Fabbioli, owner of the vineyard, brought the literacy program to his workplace about a year ago.
"A lot of our staff members for the vineyard are Latinos," Fabbioli said. "A lot of them have been on the staff for a number of years. We want to give them grander opportunities and help them integrate more with the community."
The program has been a success for the wine-making operation and its workers.
"I see greater confidence and certainly better communication," Fabbioli said. "They know that the reason we're doing this class isn't just to work better. It's for them and their spirit and their well-being. They really appreciate that it's not just a paycheck. I see it in their work."
The Loudoun Literacy Council was launched in 1980 to help refugees arriving in the county. At the time, Loudoun had a population of 57,427, according to U.S. Census records.
That mission continues to guide the work of the literacy council today, as the Loudoun population that speaks English "less than very well" has grown to 39,246 individuals, according to Census statistics. In 2016, the county was home to 379,807 residents, according to the Census Bureau.
Today, the Loudoun Literacy Council serves clients who have come to Loudoun from all over the world. More than two-thirds of the council's students are women and a majority are adults between 25 and 54 years of age. Forty-five percent of the council's clients identify as Hispanic, originally from Central and South America and islands including the Dominican Republic. Thirty percent are from the Asia-Pacific region, which includes Burma, China, India, Japan, Pakistan, Vietnam and other areas. Twelve percent are from Europe, Israel and other areas. Five percent are from Africa. Eight percent have not identified their region of origin.
Lise Rybowski, the president of the Loudoun Literacy Council, understands from a first-hand perspective the challenge of adapting to a new country and learning a new language. Her parents came to the U.S. from Poland for a new start.
"This is something near and dear to my heart," she said. "I saw how important it was to learn English."
Rybowski began her work with the literacy council two years ago by teaching English language skills in the council's tutoring program at JK Moving Services.
Over the years, the Loudoun Literacy Council has brought the job-site literacy training program to a variety of area businesses, including Blake Landscaping and the Salamander Resort.
"We can focus on the vocabulary and the language needs that are real to them every day," Rybowski said.
At the Salamander Resort, for example, this includes practicing responses to requests for more shampoo or directions to the spa.
"These are everyday responsibilities that can be really overwhelming if they don't know the response," she said.
The Loudoun Literacy Council also offers a variety of programs designed to help individuals of all ages and families. These include a family literacy program, a literacy component for the area's Head Start and STEP learning programs for low-income youth, and tutoring sessions for individuals. In 2018, the council will offer 33 small-group classes at various locations throughout the county, including public libraries.
Marlene Moran, a native Spanish speaker and mother of three, is one of Rybowski's former students who has stayed in touch after her English literacy classes ended.
"Between the first and second class I took, I got a job," Moran said, noting that her work with Loudoun County requires a bilingual speaker. "It's pretty exciting for me."
She enthusiastically recommends the Loudoun Literacy Council's literacy training program.
"I think the classes are awesome," she said. "In many, many ways."
The Loudoun Literacy Council is a volunteer-dependent organization, Rybowski said. Volunteer teachers and tutors are always needed and training is available. In addition, volunteers are needed for a range of projects, from reading to children in an area homeless shelter to helping with the organization's web site, handling fundraising projects and creating information pamphlets.
"As a teacher, I'm teaching two hours every week for 12 weeks," Rybowski said. "I love it. It's a great experience for me."
Loudoun Literacy Council President Lise Rybowski will discuss the literacy council's latest programs and the organization's volunteer needs during a presentation at the Jan. 12 CountrySide Women's Club meeting. The meeting begins at 10 a.m. in the Parkway Pool meeting room at 46020 Algonkian Parkway. The session is open to the public. For information, call 703-430-6505.