The $180,000 gift from Jim Sargen’s estate comes after state funding is lost

SAN LUIS OBISPO COUNTY — Literacy for Life, which has provided services to empower adults in San Luis Obispo County to learn to read, write, and speak English since 1982, announced it received the single largest donation in the organization’s history. An estate gift of $180,000 was left by longtime community member James “Jim” Sargen, who passed away on Oct. 2, 2021.

“We are so grateful to the Sargen family for their longtime commitment to our community,” said Literacy for Life CEO Bernadette Bernardi. “Jim was always very supportive and an advocate for adult literacy, but we didn’t know he had included us in his estate planning.” 

Sargen’s son, Marc Sargen, recently notified the organization of his father’s wishes. A donation of this size can cover the cost of tutor training, books, materials, and administrative oversight for 200 people over the next two years.


This donation coincides with a change in Literacy for Life’s funding. After 41 years, its partnership with the SLO City and County Library will be ending, meaning the organization will lose its state library funding for adult literacy, family literacy, and ESL programs. 

“We are going to be more reliant on private donations in addition to federal and local grants,” Bernardi explained. “Jim’s bequest gives us a strong foundation for our programs moving forward.”

There are successes every day at Literacy for Life’s eight learning centers, where people’s lives are changed by their learning to read and write English. From someone being able to text in English for the first time in their digital society or being able to read a book to their child, to someone getting promoted at their workplace because they can better communicate in English. One such story is the recent journey of a woman from Ukraine who worked tirelessly to learn to read and write English, then obtained her real estate license so she can make a living and support her family. Numerous other students have reached their personal goals through perseverance and hard work, resulting in an improved quality of life.

To find out more about Literacy for Life services and programs or to donate, visit or call (805) 541-4219.