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Looking Back: Seeds’ Founder Sister Kathleen

~Seeds of Literacy’s Strong Roots Date Back 20 Years to Sister Kathleen~

When Sister Kathleen Kilbane, CSJ founded Seeds of Literacy in 1997, she planted the hope and purpose that would grow into Seeds’ mission today: to provide personalized education that empowers adults to succeed in their communities. Sr. Kathleen founded Seeds as part of the Congregation of St. Joseph’s celebration of its 125 years of service to the Diocese of Cleveland.

After teaching at an elementary school for 22 years and working with the poor and disenfranchised for over 30 years, Sr. Kathleen knew the importance and necessity of having access to education. As she wrote the proposal for the start-up funds, Sr. Kathleen found that “the words just come when it’s something I care about.”

Taking its roots from a literacy program she started for the homeless, Sr. Kathleen intended for Seeds to be a place where adult students could receive individualized attention and one-on-one tutoring. While working with the homeless, she learned that the biggest issue was that “people were totally unable to receive individualized education.” Consequently, providing personalized education became the heart of Seeds’ program.

In Seeds’ first year, Sr. Kathleen, one other full time staff member, Sr. Agnes Schreiber, and 75 volunteer tutors served over 100 students at three locations. The one-to-one classroom model proved to be successful as five students graduated that first year and the numbers kept steadily rising over the next several years.

In 2001, Sr. Kathleen wrote in her Director’s Message, “As the age becomes more technological and companies downsize, we see fewer options for all people, especially the poor and undereducated. Our greatest challenge with the adult learner in many instances is to create in each individual a love for learning and their responsibility as parents to instill the same love for learning in their children.” These words still ring true and remain a crucial component of Seeds’ mission sixteen years after she wrote them.

Seeds flourished under Sr. Kathleen’s direction. When she retired in 2003, it was serving more than 300 students at ten separate locations throughout the Cleveland area. Since then, Seeds has continued to thrive, serving nearly 1,000 students a year with 250 volunteers at two locations in 2016. As we celebrate Seeds’ 20th anniversary, Sr. Kathleen reflects proudly on its progress over the years — “it has grown into such an amazing, wonderful example of how people can be served with love and compassion.”

A lot has changed since Sr. Kathleen opened Seeds’ doors 20 years ago, but what remains is a deep devotion to empowering adults through education.

[pictured top: Seeds' Founder Sister Kathleen Kilbane with current Executive Director Bonnie Entler at the 2017 Sowing Seeds of Hope Brunch]

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This article originally appeared in Seeds of Literacy’s Fall 2017 Newsletter