May 5, 2016

Volunteer Training Initiative

Literacy Texas has been awarded a grant from the Texas Workforce Commission to fund its’ Volunteer Training Initiative (VTI) to provide professional development throughout Texas, with a focus on volunteers.

The VTI provides support for three primary initiatives. The first is the Literacy Texas Conference held in San Marcos every August. This is a three day event, with the third day featuring extended workshops to give literacy volunteers and staff in depth training on one high-demand topic.

The second initiative of the VTI is taking a stripped down version of the Annual Conference “on the road” – rolling out a series of symposiums across Texas, designed to reach populations where access to training is scarce. Each free symposium offers training workshops customized to the needs of the region. The regional symposiums are led by a local coalition and supported by Literacy Texas.

The theory behind these three initiatives is to provide maximum availability of free professional development to nonprofit organizations and their volunteers through our Conference, local symposiums, and online 24/7 resources.

Steering Committee

Below are the members of the Volunteer Training Initiative Steering Committee. Comprised of Literacy Texas staff and board members, symposium representatives from our target markets, and key strategic partners from around the state, the Steering Committee serves as a planning board and support structure for the Volunteer Training Initiative.

Dr. Ida Acuna-Garza

Symposium Representative

Dr. Ida Acuna Garza has been working in Adult Education her whole life. She has developed a bilingual curriculum to reach parents of high school students with information on helping their children graduate from high school and enroll in post-secondary education, and currently serves as the Executive Director of the South Texas Literacy Coalition. Ida has written two children’s books about a cat named Callie, a rescued Calico kitten, who helped her children and Ida herself learn about family, love, and friendship.

Lynda Dutton

Symposium Representative

Lynda has been employed with Literacy Lubbock since May of 2007, where she promotes adult education through planning the design, curriculum, promotion, delivery, and ensuring the high quality of the organization's programs. In addition to her work with Literacy Lubbock, Lynda has served as a member of the TCALL Advisory Board and served on their Volunteer Training Initiative Committee (VTI).  Lynda served as a Literacy Texas Board Member, currently serves on the Board of Directors of Workforce Solutions of the South Plains, and has served as President of the Lubbock Area United Way Association of Executive Directors. 

Jennifer A. Edwards

Literacy Texas Staff

Jennifer Edwards has a true, lifelong passion for reading, and quotes Thomas Jefferson who said, "I cannot live without books." With over 15 years of extensive nonprofit leadership experience, Jennifer uses her talents to lead Literacy Texas in a time of dynamic growth, exploring and strengthening partnerships, and supporting hundreds of literacy organizations across Texas who help to ensure that all Texans can read. Jennifer is a dedicated Longhorn, and a graduate of the University of Texas at Austin. In her spare time, Jennifer maintains the South Austin Little Free Library and enjoys gardening, painting, and travel.

Sasha Khalifeh

Literacy Texas Staff

A lifelong bookworm, Sasha holds degrees in creative writing from the University of Houston and Bowling Green State University, where she served as a writing tutor and a teaching fellow, and worked for two nationally-distributed literature journals. Her experience with students from all backgrounds, coupled with her love of literature, fuels her passion for education; she fully believes that advancing literacy is the first step to providing opportunity for all. In her free time, Sasha can be found baking, playing with her dog, and getting second place in bar trivia.

Lester Meriwether


Lester has been called by his faith to serve through adult literacy since 1981. He was the first director of the Baptist Literacy Missions Center at Baylor -- which later folded into Literacy ConneXus, where he has served since. Lester find it extremely gratifying to work with those who volunteer through church-based literacy programs in meeting the literacy needs of persons across Texas. Lester earned the Doctor of Ministry degree at Southwestern Baptist Seminary in 1987 and completed the Master of Adult and Continuing Education at UNT in 1992. Outside of his service, Lester enjoys racquetball, reading, running, swing dancing, and spending time with family.

Jennifer Peters


Jennifer believes in literacy work because it affords people the ability to drive their own destinies As the Community Engagement Administrator for the Texas State Library, Jennifer oversees programs in support of library community engagement, which includes partnership development between libraries and literacy providers. Driven by service to others, she once spent a week in El Salvador on a medical mission that performed surgery on children with cleft palates, despite not speaking Spanish or having any medical training. When not working, Jennifer can probably be found catching up on her reading – her 'to be read' pile takes up one corner of her bedroom.

Dale Pillow

Literacy Texas Board Representative

Dale Pillow believes that every adult should have the opportunity to learn, and should never have to pay for this opportunity. A graduate of Our Lady of the Lake University, Dale has been involved in Adult education since being hired as the President and CEO of the Adult Reading Center in September, 2001, where she still works hard to promote literacy in her community. Dale loves to read, and will never be caught without a book available.

Robert Pinhero

Literacy Texas Board Representative

Robert Pinhero has gone from volunteering in the late 80s to directing a local literacy program, and over the years has served as President of local, state and multi-state organizations, and now serves as the director of the Literacy Council of Williamson County, where he can experience the satisfaction and results this work provides up close and personal every day. Robert has a love of entrepreneurship and often volunteers his time helping people that are trying to start or grow a very small business.

Jennifer Slade

Symposium Representative

Jennifer considers her passion for sharing a love of learning with those who need a second chance a calling to serve others given by God. As a high school educator and community member, she joined the board of the East Texas Literacy Council in 1995, where she also served as Executive director from 2004 until 2016. Jennifer and her staff has greatly benefitted from the training provided by Literacy Texas, and has helped The East Texas Literacy Council become more effective in the field. When Jennifer needs to recharge, you can find her reading or snow skiing in Colorado with her young grandchildren.

Harriet Vardiman Smith


Harriet holds a B.S. in Educational Curriculum and Instruction, and an M.S. in Educational administration & Human Resource Management, both from Texas A&M University. Currently, Harriet serves as the TCALL Managing Director, where she manages activities, supervises staff, and coordinates communications of the TRAIN Professional Development Consortium, serves on TRAIN Professional Development Consortium leadership team, moderates statewide email discussion lists, coordinates collaboration with other statewide initiatives, and represents TCALL in national partnerships, advisory committees or taskforces.

Kathryn B. Thompson, CFRE

Symposium Representative

Kathryn worked in nonprofit management and fund development for more than 30 years, and is the founding executive director of the Tarrant Literacy Coalition, where in addition to her administrative duties she teaches math and science two nights a week to adults who lack a high school diploma. For Kathryn the best part about working in Adult Education is watching her students discover their own talent, skills and abilities. In her spare time, Kathryn loves to cook and to sit on her back patio and read a nice book.