How Bonnie Potts leads the Macon County Literacy Council to build better readers-and better citizens
Literacy can challenge adults and children alike for a number of different reasons: un- or misdiagnosed learning disabilities, learning a second language in a new country, or lack of access to information. All can impact a person’s ability to progress in life.
Helping residents of the Highlands-Cashiers Plateau to overcome these challenges is the Macon County Literacy Council. In just a few years—under the leadership of executive director Bonnie Potts— the council has seen exponential growth in its after-school, English as a second language (ESL), and one-on-one tutoring programs.
“If you’re not reading at grade level by third grade, your chances of being able to graduate high school go down dramatically,” says Potts, “because after third grade, you’re expected to know how to read in order to learn the material.” Moreover, she adds, a parent who can’t read will have more difficulties helping their children through school. “And so that cycle will just continue.”
A Highlands, North Carolina native, Potts always wanted to work in the nonprofit sector. She got her first chance halfway around the world, in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. There, working in marketing and development for the VinaCapital Foundation, Potts gained the experience she needed to continue her work closer to home—this time at The Bascom.
Both roles gave her the business perspective she needed to succeed as an executive director, learning how to plan and evaluate programs with a critical eye to see what worked, and what needed improvement.
Those were the skills she needed in her first months at The Literacy Council. “I really wanted to see these programs grow,” she recalls. “I think they have a huge impact on their students. And so my biggest priority was to identify the educational needs in the community, and then be able to address them.”