The Lena Sommers' Youth & Teen Literacy Center is currently located within  the St. Ann Center for Inter-generational Care
on North Avenue.

Our Literacy Program

For over 47 years, the Nehemiah Project has provided support services to male youth (ages 13-18) who have either been the victim of difficult home lives or are transitioning from a juvenile correctional facility. It is our mission to serve as a pillar of strength for the Milwaukee community by ensuring the well-being of our most vulnerable youth. 

The Lena Sommers Youth and Teen Literacy program was developed after concluding that many children in Milwaukee can’t read at their grade level.  This is especially true of children in the inner city.  Inability to read with their peers is generally the result of very chaotic home lives that these children must deal with.  Significant absences in early elementary grades have resulted in a lack of understanding basic skills which keeps them from becoming good readers.  The inability to read is central to high school drop-out rates, lack of employment and is tied strongly to incarceration.

Through investigation we learned that there is little help available for kids who have reading deficits and living in poverty.  All of the major literacy programs in our community are for adults. In 2014, we hired a reading specialist to work with our teen population.  The specialist, through testing and analysis, found a significant majority of children to be 3-5 grade levels behind their peers.  Unable to keep up, many of these students lose hope-- embarrassed by their lack of skills.  Providing one-on-one tutoring of basic skills has shown better than expected results.  Students often gained a grade level or more in as little as twelve hours focusing on the deficiencies uncovered in the testing and analysis.  It has been thrilling to watch these boys begin to define themselves as “readers.”

When these boys turn 18 and must enter the community lacking the basic skills needed to function and get a job, the consequences become dire.  Family and living circumstances, the youth himself, and the structures (systematic and social) hinder their ability to obtain these skills. By addressing the literacy needs of these youth and helping them gain proficiency prior to their leaving the support of the juvenile system, we believe that we can have an impact on their ability to make positive life choices.  

Our reading specialist anchors the program. She is responsible for the initial and follow-up testing/assessment of each student. She defines specific objectives for each student, oversees the curriculum, assist tutors, and assesses outcomes.  The boys are retested every 90 days to determine progress and quantify outcomes.

We will access tutors through local universities and community volunteers this fall.  Our staff has been in contact with a number of community resources to provide us with the best possible guidance in how to train tutors, specifically reading tutors dealing with a teenage population. To that end, we have sought assistance from the Literacy Center at Cardinal Stritch, Literacy Center of Milwaukee, and school leaders and principals.  

All tutors will complete the training and be monitored by the reading specialist to insure quality standards and that individual student goals are met. It is expected that the training will take 6-8 hours. Once it is determined which training program we will be using, a timeline for training each tutor will be established. 

We are currently operating out of our Vliet street group home location. By June 2016, we will move the literacy program to the new St. Ann’s Intergenerational Center currently being constructed at 24th and North Avenue.  We would, eventually, like to expand the program to young people who have left our care ( past residents), younger siblings of the residents we serve, and potentially to the larger community as identified by need through teachers, parents and other referral sources. 

Our rationale for this program stems from a number of stats and studies that highlight the severe educational and economic gap of individuals without these basic skills. Some of these stats include:

     Two-thirds of student who cannot read by the fourth grade will end up in jail or on welfare.[1]

     39% of Milwaukee Public School (MPS) students read at or above basic reading level in fourth grade.

     51% of Milwaukee Public School students read at or above basic reading level in the eighth grade.

     85% of juveniles entering the court system are functionally illiterate - inability to manage daily living and employment tasks that require reading skills beyond a basic level.


[1] The National Assessment of Adult Literacy, 2011 (NAAL)

Updated 4May2016

LaTasha Hodge is our director of the Lena Sommers Youth and Teen literacy Center. She has an impressive history of working with youth, especially teens, in the area of literacy training.  Currently, she is working on her Ph.D. in Language and Literacy at Cardinal Stritch University, having earned previous degrees in Elementary Education, Curriculum and Instruction, and Reading. Additionally, her 15 years of experience has been primarily focused on teens, perfectly matching the needs at the Nehemiah Project.

Her wealth of experience is vital to addressing the literacy needs of our young men, most of whom are significantly behind their grade level. LaTasha has shown patience and a deep level of understanding of the unique needs of our residents.

She has worked with two dozen young men doing testing and one-on-one instruction. With the exception of one young man, all have improved in their reading abilities and continue to work towards proficiency.ll of our resident

A number of students were determined to be proficient readers after their initial testing with LaTasha. For those young men, LaTasha has established a book club so they can still be a part of the literacy program. She leads the young men in discussions about selected books, prodding them with questions and opening their minds to the world of reading.

We are indeed fortunate that Latasha has found a home at the Nehemiah Project. Her energy and spirit have helped to launch the Lena Sommers' Youth and Teen Literacy Program in a positive way.

The Lena Sommers' Youth & Teen Literacy Center was launched in 2014.

The Nehemiah Project staff and Board of Directors would like to thank all the people who participated, in many large and small ways, to the success of our dinner on May 7, 2014 at the Hilton City Center.

Judge Joseph Donald, the keynote speaker, shared his remarkable story and insights with the 250 people gathered in support of Nehemiah’s newest program, the Lena Sommers’ Youth and Teen Literacy Center. Judge Donald inspired everyone present to see the potential of each child within our community; to foster them, care for them, and offer hope and opportunity. The ability to read is central to offering that opportunity.

The highlight of the auction was a 14 foot canoe built by the youth at Nehemiah in collaboration with All Hands Boatworks. The bidding for the canoe far exceeded our expectations, selling for $5,000.00! Our gratitude and thanks goes to Bill and Marian Nasgovitz for the winning bid. It should be noted that the canoe was purchased by the Nasgovitzs’ with the intention of donating it to the Urban Ecology Center.

The evening provided the chance to honor Lena Sommers, launch our newest program and offer new and old friends of the Nehemiah Project the chance to reconnect. 

Watch the Canoe Building Video!

The Lena Sommers Family

Canoe built by the Nehemiah Project residents

& All Hands Boatworks  

Nehemiah Project residents & All Hands Boatworks staff

Allan Montezon, Nehemiah Project Development Committee member, Nick Montezon, All Hands Boatworks crew leader, Bill Nimke, All Hands Boatworks executive director