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Our History


The Durham Literacy Center (formerly known as the Durham County Literacy Council) was established in 1985 by a small but committed group of volunteers as a non-profit, community-based organization to address the overwhelming literacy needs of Durham County. By actively monitoring and assessing Durham’s continuously changing community, the DLC has evolved from a small organization to a pivotal provider of educational services for those most in need: adults who lack basic literacy skills, recent immigrants, and out-of-school teenagers.

Over the last 35 years, a small but dedicated staff has trained over 3,000 volunteer tutors who have educated more than 18,000 Durham residents. Each year, more than 500 DLC students improve the quality of their lives through instruction in reading and writing, as well as in workplace, computer, financial, and health literacy.

The DLC is a non-governmental agency, deriving more than 70 percent of its funding from private sources. The DLC has received numerous local, state and national awards for its innovative programs.

Since 1985, we have offered classes in numerous locations. In 2006, mold-related health risks forced the DLC to leave its home at 1410 W. Chapel Hill St. With the generous support of Suntrust Bank, Lakewood Baptist Church, and the Emily K. Center, we were able to continue serving about 500 students at seven different locations around Durham County until August 2012, when we relocated our administrative offices and the majority of our classes to our current facility at 1905 Chapel Hill Road. We also provide classes at El Centro Hispano, Durham Childrens' Initiative, Threshold Clubhouse, and other sites across Durham County.

DLC Milestones
  • Mary Whaley Paul attended a workshop to learn how to teach literacy skills to adults who could not read.

  • Mary Whaley Paul became the director of the Yates Baptist Association Literacy Program.

  • Mary Whaley Paul and several other volunteers founded the Durham County Literacy Council (DCLC) to provide basic adult literacy services to Durham County residents, many of whom had lost their jobs when the city’s cigarette and sock factories closed.

  • The DCLC achieved tax-exempt 501(c)(3) status from the IRS and later changed its name to the Durham Literacy Center.

  • The DLC expanded its services to include English classes for immigrants who spoke little to no English.  These classes were the start of our ESOL program. 

  • NBA Basketball Player Grant Hill funded the DLC's new community learning laboratory. 

  • Duke Professor Verne Roberts and his spouse, Tanya Roberts, donated a building at 1410 Chapel Hill Street to the DLC. (This facility housed all of the DLC’s administrative offices and much of the DLC’s Adult Literacy and Youth Education services for about 7 years. Our ESOL program coordinated classes in Durham libraries and other sites across the county during that time.​)

  • The DLC started receiving federal Workforce Investment Act Title II funding.

  • DLC Adult Literacy Graduate Brenda James began writing a regular column for The News & Observer's Durham News.

  • DLC Adult Literacy student Charles Winstead won a national Points of Light Award from the Barbara Bush Foundation for Family Literacy for helping others learn. 

  • The DLC expanded its services to include GED® classes for disconnected teens who had left high school prior to graduating. These classes were later integrated with comprehensive college and career counseling and community service projects, which together became our Teen Career Academy program (now called our Youth Achievement Program).

  • The DLC won Proliteracy Worldwide's U.S. Program Innovation Award for our Electronic Career Passport Program, an Internet-based career development program. 

  • The DLC organized a youth poetry celebration in honor of Black History Month. James Earl Jones attended the event as a representative of Verizon.

  • Dr. John Hope Franklin was inducted as an ex-officio board member.

  • The DLC piloted the Wilson Reading System, an evidence-based phonics methodology, with Adult Literacy students. The DLC is one of the only adult literacy programs that utilizes this approach. 

  • The DCLC was officially renamed the Durham Literacy Center (DLC).

  • The DLC was forced to sell the building at 1410 due to mold. The Adult Literacy and ESOL programs relocated to temporary space at Lakewood Baptist Church, and our Youth Education Program relocated to rented space at the John Avery Boys and Girls Club. Administrative offices relocated to rented offices in a Suntrust Bank Building.

  • The DLC published the first issue of The Voice, our semiannual newsletter.

  • The DLC became the first community-based organization in North Carolina to implement STAR (Student Achievement in Reading) reforms after two staff attend a training sponsored by the U.S. Department of Education.

  • The DLC held its first Leaders in Literacy Breakfast to celebrate the achievements of our tutors and students, to honor those who have advanced our cause, and to raise funds for future efforts.

  • The DLC joined Facebook and Twitter.

  • U.S. Representative David Price (NC) recognized the 25th anniversary of the Durham Literacy Center and honored Mary Whaley Paul in the House of Representatives in Washington, DC. Click here to read the entry in the Congressional Record (Volume 156, Number 72, Page E839).

  • The DLC was designated an Agency of Excellence by the United Way of the Greater Triangle.

  • ABC11 interviewed DLC staff and and a student for its Heart of Carolina Perspectives television show.

  • The DLC participated in the Great American Tobacco Duck Race for the first time.

  • The Youth Education Program relocated from the John Avery Boys & Girls Club to the Emily K Center.

  • The DLC received the Chamber of Commerce’s Business Excellence Award for Nonprofits.

  • The DLC won the Herald-Sun True Grit Award.

  • The DLC launched its Capital Campaign.

  • The DLC’s Youth Education Program (now the Youth Achievement Program) won a Making a Difference for Durham Families Award.

  • The DLC completed the purchase of a 10,000-square-foot building at 1905 Chapel Hill Road and began renovations the following week. In August 2012, our Administrative Offices and our Adult Literacy & ESOL programs moved into this facility. Our YEP program moved in the following summer.

  • The DLC merged with the Achievement Academy of Durham, combining forces to provide comprehensive high school equivalency instruction to out-of-school youth in Durham County. 

  • The DLC stopped receiving federal funding due to the reauthorization of WIA and the creation of the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act. 

  • The DLC celebrates its 35th anniversary amid the COVID-19 pandemic, providing 100% remote instruction for the first time in our history.


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