Wes Young has always understood the value of reading, thanks in part to his mother.
But a deeper meaning of literacy and the impact it can have on a person’s life came much later.
As the executive director of the Tarrant Literacy Coalition, Young’s mission is to help adult students master reading, writing and math skills so they can earn a high school equivalent certificate and move up in the workforce.
About 24% of adults in Tarrant County read below a fourth-grade level, the U.S. Department of Education estimates.
“The idea is to build up those basic skills enough so that they can either go enroll or fully transfer into some other type of program, whether that’s a high school equivalency test preparation program or just simply into the workforce,” Young said.
As a child, Young’s exposure to classic Western literature was limited at his private, religious school.
“Reading in school never really interested me,” he said. “Being a religious institution, they were very particular about what kind of books you read. So there’s all these works in classical literature that they wouldn’t let us read because of questionable content.”
It wasn’t until attending college at the University of North Texas that he discovered the vast sea of books the world had to offer.
“Weirdly, that makes my perspective on some things a little bit different. I know for a bunch of angsty teen boys, ‘Catcher in the Rye’ really speaks to them,” Young said. “I came into it as a college sophomore. And so when I read it, it was one of those things like, ‘The protagonist in this book is just kind of a jerk. He’s very self-centered.’”
His love for literature pushed him to apply for jobs at public libraries, and his first stop was as a clerk at the Arlington Public Library. Young worked his way up and quickly found himself leading the adult literacy program there.
Having neither worked as a former educator nor in an adult literacy program, Young once again came in with a different perspective. That helped him successfully bring stability to the volunteer-led program and expand it across the community.
Four years later, he joined the Tarrant Literacy Coalition.
The organization provides free support resources to organizations across the area that work with adults looking to improve their literacy and math skills. That includes training volunteers to work with adult students and organizing the new student orientation process.
“One of the things that I think is really cool about adult learners is typically they are coming to the classrooms because it’s something that they want to do,” Young said. “I just learn so much from my interactions with all those people. They all have such unique experiences with them.”
The coalition referred 2,291 adults in 2022 to a literacy program through Fort Worth ISD, Tarrant County College, Arlington ISD and the Arlington Public Library.
Kathryn Thompson was the founding director of the coalition back in 2009 and met Young when he was still working at the Arlington Public Library. Young was a natural fit to take over from her, she said, due to his passion for helping people achieve their goals.
“He’s a very hard worker. He’s someone that really sees the best in people and he wants to help them find their path,” Thompson said, who is now the executive director at the Children’s Advocacy Center of Parker County.
Need help finding a class?
Fill out the online student referral form to be contacted by a representative of the Tarrant Literacy Coalition with information about a class that’s just right for you. You may also call the office to speak to someone to help you find a class 817-402-7555.
Employees at the coalition described Young as a kind and patient supervisor who is always willing to help.
“If all supervisors were like him, the world would be a different place,” said Osiris Delgado, orientation and testing specialist at the coalition and former teacher. “He doesn’t act like he’s above us.”
Running a volunteer-based organization is no easy task. Young navigates this job with a hands-on approach. You can catch him fostering relationships with students, teaching some GED classes, filling in for an ESL teacher, or hosting conversation circles.
“It doesn’t matter where you are on the hierarchy of the organizational chart. You can be a leader from the bottom. You can go from the middle or you can be a leader from the top,” Young said. “It’s just really important to be authentic, and true to yourself when it comes to your leadership. I feel like that’s probably like some of the most valuable stuff that I’ve learned along the way.”
Sandra Sadek is a Report for America corps member, covering growth for the Fort Worth Report. You can contact her at email@example.com or on Twitter at @ssadek19.
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Wes Young Bio:
Birthplace: North Richland Hills, TX
Moved to Fort Worth: I’ve never lived in Fort Worth. Currently, I live in Rhome, TX, where I’ve lived for 20 years. It’s a 100-mile round-trip to my office.
Family: Married (9 years in May), no children. Pet turtle. Personally, I’m a single child, both parents still living, but in different states (Mom in Halstead, Kansas; Dad splits his year between Gouldsboro, ME and Green Valley, AZ)
Education: Bachelor of Arts in English Literature (2007) and Master’s in Library Science (2016), both from the University of North Texas.
Work experience: More than 20 years of management experience; 12 in retail and 9 in government/nonprofit. I also spent about 6 years doing home repairs and “make-readies” for homes going on the market.
Volunteer experience: More than four years volunteering as a reading tutor.
First job: Aside from the above-mentioned home repair and make-ready work, my first formal job was as a warehouse worker at the long-defunct Service Merchandise. I worked my way up to assistant manager. Sadly, 9/11 put the final nail in Service Merchandise’s bankruptcy coffin four months after that promotion.
Advice for someone learning to be a leader:
1. Make continuous learning a priority. In almost every job that I’ve had, I found myself in a position I was probably not skilled enough to fulfill. Being able to learn and develop new skills has been invaluable throughout my career.
2. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. This is an offshoot of my continuous learning point. Making mistakes is a key component for learning in one’s work.
3. Know that there are many leadership styles, but the one that matters most is what compliments your personality and ethos. Don’t try to force yourself into a style that is inauthentic.
4. You are not an island. Your work as a leader is only as good as the people you surround yourself with and the bonds that you forge in your community.
Best advice ever received: When it comes to programming (or anything, really), there are no unicorns. This is a re-wording of the expression “there are no sacred cows,” meaning that nothing is so precious that it is safe from criticism or cessation.