About Us

Tolton Center is an Adult Education and Family Literacy program that serves low-income communities in the Chicago area, free of charge. Serving approximately 600 people a year from various backgrounds, Tolton has been recognized as a leader in adult education at local, state and national levels.

The Tolton strategy is to empower adults through academic achievement. This strategy recognizes that breaking the illiteracy cycle must begin with the adult who is the center of the family and community structure.
Founded by the De La Salle Institute in 1991, Tolton has expanded its coverage from one to five sites over the past eighteen years.

After seven years at various Southside locations, a 1998 relationship with the Chicago Public Libraries led to the opening of Tolton’s first public library site at the Chicago Bee branch library at 3647 S. State Street.

The following year saw the opening of Tolton’s first Westside site at the Legler branch library at 115 S. Pulaski Road. In 2001, a third site was begun at the Family Learning Resource Center in the Alain Locke Charter Academy at 3144 W. Jackson Blvd. Another two sites were added in 2006, with the initiation of Tolton’s English as a Second Language program at the Toman branch library and at the Our Lady of

Tepyac Elementary School. In 2010, due to changes in library hours, Tolton Center moved from Toman Library to La Villita Community Church at 2300 S Millard, where a partnership with Enlace Chicago was formed. ESL at Our Lady of Tepeyac also relocated from the Elementary School site to the Head Start site at 2414 S Albany.

Mission Statement

Tolton’s mission is to provide excellent alternative adult education and family literacy experiences within a caring community where “everyone teaches and everyone learns.”


The De La Salle/Tolton Center is an adult education and family literacy program that offers the following: Adult Basic Education (ABE) and General Educational Development (GED) preparation, and English as a Second Language (ESL) and Family Literacy. Within classes, we offer educational opportunities to develop life skills, including financial literacy, health literacy, job readiness and computer-assisted learning.

People Served

The Tolton Center serves 600 people annually, including at risk adults and their families;
ex-offenders; recovering substance abusers; the homeless; victims of domestic violence, displaced workers, and recent immigrants
Funding Sources

67% of the Tolton Center’s funding comes from government contracts; 20% from foundations; 10% from corporations, and 3% from individuals.

Free of charge to students

The Tolton Center serves students who live in economically disadvantaged areas of Chicago. In Little Village, where our ESL classes are held, the median household income is just $28,203 as compared to $41,994 for all of the United States. The median household income for families in our program as the Toman Library is below $24,800 and for families in our program at Tepeyac School, below $20,000.

In West Garfield Park, where ABE/GED classes are held, the median household income is $25,486. Perhaps most shocking is the median household income in Bronzeville, where another ABE/GED site is located. This particular neighborhood has a median household income of just $7,368. (All statistics found in US Census 2000)

Tolton Center staff believes that opportunities for learning should be available to all people of all economic situations. Furthermore, we believe that learning is the key to better job opportunities, which can provide families greater stability and broaden the prospects for the next generation of learners. For these reasons, we always offer classes free of charge.

The Tolton Center enables economically disadvantaged people to improve their reading, writing, math, and analytical skills in the ABE/GED program so they can complete their education and effectively enter a labor market which requires them to continue learning and adapting to developing technologies. The curriculum emphasizes real life situations and contextualizes learning through discussions and lessons, which explore possible solutions.

In the ESL program, students gain language skills and vocabulary crucial to their everyday lives. For some, this means language and vocabulary relating to helping their children in school or visiting the doctor, while for others it relates to job interviews or speaking with coworkers. These skills allow students to integrate and to participate in their neighborhoods, jobs, unions, schools, community advocacy groups and American society on the whole. The teachers at the Tolton Center in both programs work with each individual holistically, integrating discussions of their difficulties both inside and outside the classroom.

Tolton Center Staff and Volunteers

More than 18 staff members provide services at 5 sites throughout Chicago. More than 50 volunteers contribute 600 hours of service annually and play important roles as tutors, counselors, and mentors One Volunteer’s Reflections I’ve known about Tolton Adult Education Center since its inception.  I have been a supporter and booster in every way possible – except as a volunteer. 

With a full-time job and a very busy family and community life, I just hadn’t been able to envision how I could fit volunteering at Tolton into my busy schedule.  But when, this spring, I suddenly found myself without that full-time job, Susan Perez, Tolton’s Executive Director, made me an offer I just couldn’t refuse!“You can teach your own class, you can choose morning or afternoon, reading/language arts or math…your choice.”  Well, everyone loves choices, right? 

Who can pass up getting to choose, first pick, so to speak?  Not me!   So I embarked on my first classroom teaching assignment in over thirty years, as part of a “pilot program” at St. Luke Church of God in Christ.And, from the very first day, as I helped Tolton and St. Luke staff sort through stacks of manilla folders with placement test results and personal information for each prospective student, I knew this would be a good experience.  As we worked through the files, I heard and felt from my co-workers, the respect and concern for each unique person these folders represented. 

I experienced the commitment Tolton staff and volunteers alike have made to free adults, young and old, from the bonds of illiteracy.  How could you not want to be part of that great work?  But, while Tolton might very well be a great experience for me, would I be good for Tolton and it’s students?You know the old adage about riding a bicycle – once you get the hang of it, you never really forget?

Well, I found teaching was something like that also!  Of course, it probably helped that instead of a class of thirty squirmy, hormonally-challenged middle school children, I taught a small group of serious adults, many of whom had gone to great lengths to be able to spend these hours in pursuit of their goal, whether it be reading to their children, getting their GED, or getting accepted into a training program or community college.   For eight weeks, we learned together. 

I rekindled my love of teaching, and sometimes I could see that same spark in a student, as they explored a new idea, mastered a skill, or were able to express in written word some of the wisdom they had gained through their life experience.  Usually not a very “Pollyanna” type, I was surprised to hear myself blurting out at the end of most classes, “I really enjoyed this, and hope you did too!” 

Believe me, if my students learned as much as I, then we all did very well!When the “pilot program” was over, it was good to see the strong and positive test results and the hope and determination they provided for everyone. 

But, I could also see the disappointment, for we had worked and eaten together, helped and teased one another… in short, we had begun to form community and now, all too soon, it was ending.  I was amazed that many of the students wanted to continue into the dog days of summer, and while part of me was ready for a bit of a hiatus, I would miss the class, the routine, and the interaction just as much as they would. 

And so, as summer comes to an end, and I have had my time off, I’m ready to return.  I found I do have things to teach, and I certainly have lots more to learn!


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