Most Impactful Executive Director

Exemplifying literacy and leadership. 

Felicia Poettgen spends a lot of time thinking about reading. However, she’s not a librarian or a schoolteacher. She’s the director of Adult Basic Literacy Education, a nonprofit with a mission of promoting literacy in Jefferson City and the surrounding communities. She’s a strong advocate for children and adults who need help developing reading skills.

 ABLE, located at 204 E. Dunklin St., has been serving the community for more than 30 years, offering tutoring in reading, English as a second language, and high school equivalency testing preparation. While Poettgen is a staff of one, she has hundreds of volunteers to help carry out this work, and a strong board of directors.

 “I’m an office of one, and the ABLE board is a wonderful support,” Poettgen says. “Many have been on the board for 30 years, and they know what’s going on. They also know what works.”

 Poettgen is in charge of fundraising efforts, including the spring book sale with the Missouri River Regional Library, and their strong relationship, both in dollars and support, with the United Way of Central Missouri. She’s also the volunteer coordinator for hundreds of volunteers both in the middle school reading program and the adult classes at ABLE. Working with volunteers has been a rewarding experience for Poettgen during her tenure as director.

 “I have the best job ever,” Poettgen says. “I love finding a good fit for people, especially finding the right volunteer that fits the student. I see the volunteers get more out of it than the students. I love to see the results, which sometimes are not a huge jump, but it’s the relationship that is the best way for all ages to learn.”

 While the level of literacy in our community has increased thanks to technology, Poettgen notes, there are many people still unable to read at a third- or fourth-grade level — the level needed to fill out forms at doctor’s offices, for example, or to access needed services. ABLE helps adults, including those learning English as a second language, increase their reading skills to socially acclimate and find better employment. It can be life-changing for them, and it’s been life-changing for her, too.

 “I started out as an ESL tutor at East School, and it pretty much saved my life,” Poettgen reflects. “After becoming a widow unexpectedly, those kids I was tutoring didn’t know, so it made life normal for me. It gave me a purpose. I got up every day and went. It was something I really enjoyed.”

 ABLE has also opened her eyes to this community and the big needs out there, which she didn’t always see before becoming a volunteer and then director.

 “I’ve lived in this community for 40 years, and you can live in a bubble with your family and kids, but then I became involved with ABLE,” she says. “There are people who need things at no fault of their own. You can get judgmental sometimes when you’re not close to it. The ones with very little offer the most. They would give you anything. It’s amazing!”

 Poettgen’s leadership and passion for ABLE are noticeable in everything she does, but especially in how she builds relationships in the community. The ABLE board, including former teacher and ABLE board president Karlene Diekroeger, sees that every day.

 “She is really the heart and soul of ABLE. I often tell her when she leaves that I will resign from the board,” Diekroeger jokes. “She has an incredible way with people. She is great with the tutors and knowing how to place them, and she’s always praising their work. She’s also forged great relationships with United Way and their other agencies to know the needs in the community.”

 While ABLE has temporarily paused their program in the middle school due to COVID-19, ABLE continues to take calls and help with needs in the community, often using technology to connect. ABLE also provides adult, in-person classes at their Dunklin Street building from 6 to 9 p.m. with COVID-19 precautions in place, including masks, social distancing, and temperature checks. Poettgen hopes their positive impact will continue long into the future.

 “With our adults, the impact would be for them to find employment or better employment and help their children by being an example about the importance of education,” Poettgen says. “For students, the impact would be to help them stay in school, which feeds right into also being good for our community.”

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