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Marathon County Literacy Council impact extends beyond words

Organization tutors those who need help in various communication

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July 8, 2024

WAUSAU – Connie Heidemann, executive director of the Marathon County Literacy Council (McLit), said it’s important for those who need help – whether that be in literacy, computer education, the workforce, etc. – have access to the people and resources to support them.

And that, Heidemann said, is exactly what McLit – located at 515 N. 3rd St. in Wausau – stands to do.

Originally focusing mostly on literacy, Heidemann said the nonprofit organization has since expanded its services to encompass all communications – which she said encompasses a large variety of tutoring needs.

Some background

Heidemann said the Marathon County Literacy was originally started in 1997 when the Hmong population began to move into the area.

Though at the time she wasn’t involved in the organization, Heidemann said she was very much aware of its existence.

“The people who started it did a good job, but their problem was they didn’t adapt as the Hmong (population) was changing and learning,” she said. “The children were all learning in school, and the parents were learning from their children… and they had gained enough information because they were working, and their English was improving dramatically.”

Eventually, Heidemann said “the literacy council fell apart,” and Wood County representatives took over operations.

However, she said she didn’t find out about the organization’s dissolution until she retired from teaching and returned home from Illinois to the Wausau area.

“When I came back, I was bored,” she said. “So, I went into the literacy council and said, ‘oh, there is nobody here.’ Wood County (asked if I) could take it over, (and) I said I would.”

Heidemann said the next thing she knew, she became executive director of the literacy council (in 2015) and has been working ever since to bring it back to a better spot. 

By 2017, she said she was able to get the organization’s 501(c)(3) nonprofit status reinstated, which was lost when Wood County took it over operations.

“I found out that if it was less than five years, and I paid all the back taxes, I could get our 501(c)(3) back,” she said. “I got right on it… we made it within a few weeks.”

A broad range of services

Instead of trying to bring back previous tutors, Heidemann said she first decided to wait to “see what people came to me with” in regard to literacy issues.

“It (was) fascinating because we’re a broad-scoped organization now,” she said. “Communication, basically, is literacy.”

As time has gone on, Heidemann said more and more needs were brought to the surface from the community, leading herself, the McLit staff and its 35 volunteers to offer various degrees of help in the realm of communication.

Computer literacy, she said, being one facet.

Two girls in front of a computer look at the camera smiling.
Marathon County Literacy Council currently has three computer labs that are free to use. Photo Courtesy of McLit

“A lot of our (clients) don’t know how to use computers, or they don’t have access to computers,” she said. “That was one of the first things I did. I (created) a computer lab and started computer classes – whether it was typing or learning the keyboard.”

In the lab, Heidemann said tutors also help students with anything from filling out a job application to applying for an apartment.

McLit, she said, also offers Burlington English – an online course that helps ESL (English as a second language) students.

Heidemann said it is the same program used at Northcentral Technical College (NTC).

“If NTC goes too fast, or (students) can’t comprehend everything and need a bit more guidance, they can come to us,” she said. “We can sit with them one-on-one and walk them through the steps.”

Heidemann said McLit now has three computer labs, which support a variety of services, including:

  • Driver’s license education – designed for students from other countries or in the area who need guidance on the steps to get their license
  • Share a story – designed for parents and guardians to develop healthy reading habits with their children
  • Spanish as a second language – Spanish lessons to anyone looking to learn the language
  • Health literacy – designed for students who need help in understanding the healthcare system and their own health
  • Job applications and resume assistance
  • Budgeting and finance tutoring
  • GED (general education development) tutoring

A full list of services can be found on the literacy council’s website (

For services such as McLit’s driver’s license education, Heidemann said the council also works with the district attorney (DA) to have clients go through programs to make sure they know how to properly get their driver’s license in the U.S.

“A lot of these not-big tickets – your expired license, your burnt out headlight – end up in court, and then (clients) have to pay fines, they can get a couple days in jail… and it clogs up the court system.”

Heidemann said McLit also offers walk-in tutoring for various needs – whether that be reading, writing, math or computer skills. 

“We’ve had people come in who don’t know how to use their phone…,” she said. “Any form of communication – we will help with.”

Heidemann said the literary council also tries its best to make sure the area’s Little Free Libraries (LFLs) are stocked with books.

“We have books donated,” she said. “We’re always telling people, ‘bring them here.’ We go around and we’ll put them in LFLs.”

The vast array of free services, Heidemann said, allows the council to reach more members of the community who need help – even with issues that aren’t necessarily directly related to literacy.

“We have (some clients) we are helping who are either alcoholics, drug (addicts) or recently released from prison,” she said. 

For example, Heidemann said the literacy council helped a former CDL (commercial driver’s license) driver who was released from prison get a new ID so he could apply for his CDL again – a process she said took many different steps.

When the individual went to jail, she said, someone stole everything he had, which made it impossible for him to renew his CDL.

“He had been a CDL (driver)… and he wanted to get back to doing that,” she said. “(However), he had no IDs, so they would not allow him to go back into driving.”

In an effort to help the McLit client, Heidemann said the team first helped him obtain an ID through a local church pantry.

“(The church) keeps track of who got food and who didn’t (using an ID card),” she said. “That was the first card he had with his name on it – all he had to have was his name.”

Because he was staying at the Salvation Army at the time – Heidemann said that then provided him with an address.

With the ID card and the address in hand, she said the McLit team then helped the client obtain a grocery store discount card – which included both his name and address.

Eventually, Heidemann said they were able to obtain his birth certificate, his social security card and then he “could go for the driver’s license.”

“That was exciting,” she said. “He got his regular license, and within about nine months, he had his CDL – and he got a job in Green Bay,” she said. “It’s been about four or five years now.”

Heidemann said it is one example of the help the literacy council can provide for community members looking to rejoin the workforce or move up the ranks.

“We’ve had people who get the jobs, and then come and say, ‘I want to be a manager,’ or ‘I want to step up…,’” she said. “We try to help (them).”

Preparing for the workforce

To further help the community’s workforce, Heidemann said McLit does what it can to collaborate with organizations, such as the Wisconsin Department of Health Services’s FoodShare Employment and Training (FSET), the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development’s Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) and The Joseph Project. 

“Let’s say FSET has a job for a manufacturer… people learn the basic measurements, or they learn what’s necessary for the job that they’re going to be doing,” she said. “We can teach them. Some of them can’t read… can’t even fill out their insurance forms.”

Five people lifting up a box full of books and smiling at the camera.
When people donate their used books to the literacy council, Connie Heidemann said volunteers and staff distribute them across Little Free Libraries in the area. Photo Courtesy of McLit

FSET, Heidemann said, can provide the papers and documents necessary for a job, but doesn’t have anyone to help employees go through those forms.

“When they get the paperwork, we sit and go through it all with them,” she said. 

WIOA, she said, will often send workers to the literacy council to gain office and other professional work skills.

“They will work for us,” she said. “A couple of people we’ve hired, some have gotten jobs right after training and a couple don’t get a job because they don’t quite qualify.”

Heidemann said the literacy council also helps students prepare for interviews or other aspects of employment preparation.

“We try to (provide McLit clients) different (types of clothing)… for their interviews, or we try to find them rides or show them how to ride on the buses – any kind of thing that (might) happen for their job,” she said. 

McLit, Heidemann said, has worked with a variety of different area businesses – such as Wausau Tile, Greenheck and Crystal Finishing – but it fluctuates depending on the types of jobs companies are looking to fill – and whether or not a client has access to reliable transportation.

“If they don’t have a vehicle, then (McLit) has to find jobs and businesses that are on the bus route,” she said. “If they do have a vehicle, some have gone as far as Merrill and Tomahawk (to work).”

Heidemann said McLit also works with several dairy companies, which typically employ a large Hispanic population – and use the Burlington English course to teach ESL through Zoom. 

Once clients start earning money, Heidemann said the next important step is they know how to budget correctly.

“There’s a lot of follow-up, and there’s a lot of working with the businesses also,” she said. 


The biggest challenge McLit encounters, Heidemann said, isn’t tutoring students – it’s getting the word out to the right people.

“There are many people who don’t know where to go and what to do (in order to obtain resources)…,”  she said.

Heidemann said another widely unknown aspect of McLit is that it serves as a safe space for people during harsh weather.

“In the wintertime, we let people come in,” she said. “They have to do some kind of learning – we’ll do everything from playing the game of Life or playing Monopoly or teaching them on the computers… We give them coffee, hot chocolate – whatever it is that might warm them up.” 

Continuing on

As McLit continues to provide free services to the Greater Wausau community, Heidemann said the organization will continue to adapt to the community’s needs.

“We adapt to whatever the need of the person is,” she said. “I never thought I’d be helping so many people with jobs. I was thinking – like everybody else – ‘okay, it’s reading and writing.’ Well, technically it is, (but it’s more than that).”

For anyone interested in receiving help from McLit, Heidemann said to “come on over.”

“We’re here for them, and we can help them,” she said. 

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