As part of an ongoing series of interviews with folks you might not have seen in the paper before, we caught up with Rachel Baiyor of Literacy Outreach (which presents its annual Spellebration event virtually on April 30 — visit literacyoutreach.org for info and registration).
Q: Where did you grow up and what brought you out here?
A: I was born and raised in the Chicago suburbs. I came to Colorado to go to CSU in Fort Collins. My mom used to live in Denver, and we grew up camping and skiing and doing all that, but only to a Midwest extent, so I was really excited to explore something different. I started off studying biology but eventually left with an ecosystem sciences sustainability degree and a political science minor.
Q: How did that lead to literacy?
A: I started getting connected to some environmental nonprofits, and sort of doing volunteer work and interning. By the time I graduated, I just knew I wanted to go into the nonprofit sector. My boyfriend at the time was living in Edwards, so I moved to the mountains. Then I found the AmeriCorps VISTA position, and it seemed like a great fit.
Q: Tell us about that program.
A: I call it the domestic Peace Corps. They get a bunch of volunteers with an overall goal to alleviate poverty within that community. And so understanding that poverty is super complex and multifaceted, they’ve placed these support volunteers at a plethora of different organizations that are helping to reduce poverty from various angles.
Q: What does Literacy Outreach do?
A: Our mission has always been to teach essential literacy skills. We work with adult learners, and when we first started back in the ‘80s, our reach was really folks whose native language is English, but were failed by the public education system or have disabilities and never got those basic literacy skills. As the demographic of this valley has changed, it’s really expanded to include folks learning English as a second language. People don’t realize how pervasive an issue this is. If we could help all 36 million adults struggling with literacy, it would change everything for the whole community, and for generations to come.
Q: And you decided to stick with it after your VISTA year?
A: Yes, I got very lucky. We secured some funding to transition me just right into a staff role. We have a really small staff so we all do a bit of everything, but I’ve really taken on a lot of the volunteer recruitment and management, and then also a lot of the grant writing and fundraising event planning things like that.
Q: How did the pandemic impact you?
A: I kept very steady employment the whole time and my family stayed safe and healthy and we were very blessed in that regard. I did have to start back on antidepressants and go back in therapy, which is probably great for everyone, anyway. I was living in Rifle with roommates that were not my best friends. I felt very isolated and alone and then I was really excited to move to Glenwood for the first time since I’ve been in the Valley. My sister lives with me now — I convinced her to move out.
At work, everything was done in person and on paper and so it was a huge shake up. But we are rejoining the 21st century, I’m happy to see that. If you want to navigate this world and be an active participant in the community, having the internet and knowing how to use it is a vital part.
Q: What are your interests outside of work?
A: I’m a mediocre skier; I climb mountains slowly; I love to rock climb; I love rafting, I’m not picky as long as I’m outside. I am also a bit of a plant nerd — I’ve got like 60 plants at home. The one I’ve been having the most fun with is my orchid, it’s on its second bloom right now.
Q: What’s next for you?
A: When I first moved here, I thought I would stay a couple of years and then go somewhere a bit bigger. And then the pandemic hit and it has made me realize I don’t think I want to go back to city living, at least not right now. I’m really, really happy in the valley.