Our Story

Project Learn is Greater Cleveland's premier adult education center, and it has acquired a national reputation for its leadership in advancing literacy. Our mission is "Literacy for Every Adult," and our purpose is to provide basic skills, GED preparation and job support services to adults so that they may attain self-sufficiency and independence.  We believe that Learning Lasts Forever. 

Education is freedom: when students acquire basic skills, a GED, and a job they become self-sufficient, they can solve the problems of daily living, they take full advantage of their citizenship and participate fully in the affairs of their community.

At the inception of Project Learn in 1974, few people realized the extent of adult illiteracy. But in its formative years - because of the inspirational leadership of founding director Nancy Oakley, the tremendous dedication of so many volunteers and the persistent courage of adults who were learning to read - Project Learn gained momentum and word of its work spread throughout the community.  What began as a small reading project soon evolved into a multi-dimensional adult education program. Over time, Project Learn added English for Speakers of Other Languages tutoring; pre-GED classes; workplace skills training for manufacturing employees; classes for corrections inmates; comprehensive library services designed especially for new readers; computer-assisted learning instruction; and small group teaching.  All of these new programs came about with one fundamental aim - to provide basic level students with whatever they needed to realize their goals.  Adherence to this principle has paid off: in thirty-seven years, over 20,000 adults have improved their skills at Project Learn.

Much has changed since those early years. Literacy has a broader meaning now. Because technology has complicated life, possession of basic skills is an absolute necessity.  But with more than one-fifth of American adults lacking those necessary basic skills, how will we preserve the ideals we cherish most: self-sufficiency, freedom, justice, equality, hope, and opportunity?  The answer lies in the one thing at Project Learn that has not changed since the beginning, and that is tutors and teachers working together with students on their lessons.  Surely through those relationships lies the path to a better community for all.


Our Founder

Nancy Oakley grew up in Rossford, Ohio, and graduated from the University of Toledo, College of Pharmacy.  She moved to Cleveland to work in pharmacy and after marriage became a stay-at-home mother of five children.  Although she never returned to pharmacy, she maintained her license for forty-six years through yearly continuing education courses.

With all her children in the Cleveland Public Schools, she became aware of the disparities in the quality of education within the schools.  Nancy became a volunteer in advocacy groups seeking change, with particular concern for lack of reading skills among Cleveland students.  This led to the position of Education Specialist at the Interchurch Council of Greater Cleveland.  While continuing to work for better schools, she also began to focus on adult literacy problems and founded Project Learn (formerly known as Project: LEARN) in 1975 as an affiliate of Laubach Literacy Action.  Under this national program she became certified in several areas of literacy work, including Writing for New Readers. 

She retired as Director of Project Learn in 1992 but returned as a Health Literacy Consultant in the Reading Health program in 2002. Using her pharmacy and literacy backgrounds, she guided the Reading Health program in developing its training components and the process for rewriting health materials into easier language. She continues to provide the workshop, “Writing for Easy Reading,” with its focus on making patient materials easier to read.

Because of her leadership, adult literacy programs were started in Akron, Medina, Lorain County, and the Mansfield Reformatory.  For all this she was elected to the Ohio Women’s Hall of Fame in 1992.