Webber Foundation Donates $2M to Eradicate Illiteracy in Detroit Public Schools


The Wayne and Joan Webber Foundation announced today it is committing up to $2 million to help eradicate illiteracy in Detroit Public Schools via Beyond Basics, a non-profit education organization that has developed an intense, six-week tutoring program that gets students reading at or above their grade level within six weeks.

“Our gift will eliminate illiteracy in the 10 elementary and middle schools that Beyond Basics serves, but we need government to step in and support this program because it works phenomenally,” says Wayne Webber, who founded the foundation in the late 1990s. “If the government, from the state and local levels, saw what we saw when the children are paired one on one with a certified tutor, we could eliminate illiteracy altogether.”

During a press conference and literacy summit held at the Detroit Institute of Arts, which drew Brenda Jones, president of the Detroit City Council, James Tate, a Detroit City Council member, numerous principals and educators, along with supporting businesses, Beyond Basics announced its Literacy For All campaign that seeks to set up reading and writing programs in every public elementary and middle school in the city.

Here’s how the program works: Once a student is identified by their teacher as having fallen behind in reading, writing, or word comprehension, they spend one hour each school day going through the intense literacy training program with a certified tutor. As a result of the program, 95 percent of the students are reading at or above grade level after six weeks. The results are independently verified.

Beyond Basics also offers a publishing center where students can publish their writing assignments into a hardbound book. A related program, called Expanding Horizons, offers art classes and cultural projects as well as sponsored field trips to the Detroit Institute of Arts or the Cranbrook Educational Community. The trips are sponsored by businesses, where employees spend a half-day with the students working on art projects and mentoring programs.

“Beyond Basics is one of our most valued partners,” says Cynthia Webber Helisek, president of the Webber Foundation. “We have been witness to decades of failed programs, where students are graduating from high school with the reading skills of the third or fourth grade. Those students are then expected to go out in the community, work, vote, and advance their own education. How are they going to do that if their school and their teachers fail them? Beyond Basics should be in every Detroit Public School, because the students deserve a quality education.”

Beyond Basics, founded in 1999, has helped thousands of children read and write through public and private donations from an array of sources, including Target, Mercedes-Benz Financial, Jaffe Raitt Heuer and Weiss, Farbman Group, Proctor Financial Inc., the Community Foundation for Southeast Michigan, and the United Way for Southeastern Michigan.

Currently, 47 percent of adults living in Detroit are functionally illiterate, while 75 percent of children who do not read proficiently by the fourth grade will either drop out of school or wind up in jail. In addition to its child literacy program, Beyond Basics offers adult literacy programs in partnership with Wayne State University and others.

“We don’t have to imagine that we can eliminate illiteracy in Detroit, we are doing it right now, but we need more private and public support to expand our programs across the entire city of Detroit,” says Pam Good, co-founder and executive director of Beyond Basics. “Please call or email us, we stand ready to support our children and ensure all of them have a bright and promising future.”

For more information about Beyond Basics, visit BeyondBasics.org or call 248-250-9304.