News & Blog

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Family Literacy Celebration on March 21 Engages GRPS Parents in Literacy 

The Literacy Center of West Michigan is hosting its first annual Family Literacy Celebration on Tuesday, March 21 from 5:30 pm- 7:00 pm at Grand Rapids Public Schools’ Dickinson Elementary School located at 448 Dickinson Street SE in Grand Rapids.

As part of the Community Literacy Initiative at the Literacy Center, this event will support families from Dickinson and Brookside elementary by providing activities designed to promote literacy at home. Families will have an opportunity to receive culturally relevant books matched to children's reading level, in addition to door prizes and dinner. Presentations will be in English, Spanish, and Kinyarwanda. Families will also have the opportunity to connect with Grand Rapids Public Library, Schools of Hope, and Great Start Collaborative.

Mike Nassar, director of the Community Literacy Initiative remarks, "As a former GRPS principal, I understand how strengthening parent engagement will have a direct impact on student achievement. I am excited about the Literacy Celebration providing a key support for schools and families to ensure all children read at grade level."

Brad Hieftje is an AmeriCorps Family Literacy Tutor in our Adult Tutoring Program. He reviewed the Activist Series for use in tutoring sessions. 

Through my AmeriCorps service at the Literacy Center, I tutor incredible learners from all over the world. We practice several different English skills on a weekly basis, while also working towards accomplishing their short and long term goals. Staying true to the Literacy Center’s mission of seeking social justice through the power of literacy, I try to choose texts that emphasize diverse voices. The Literacy Center has many great resources for this in their library, including the Activist Series from the Grass Roots Press.

Kiri DeYoung is an AmeriCorps member with the Literacy Center of West Michigan. Kiri DeYoung

I am completely honored to be serving as an AmeriCorps ESL Instructor with the Family Literacy program at the Literacy Center of West Michigan. Each week, I present new words, sentences and activities to groups of hard working parents with children in the Grand Rapids Public School system so they can practice a little bit more English.

Learning a new language is tough work that requires an inspirational amount of vulnerability. It takes courage and a never-give-up kind of determination. To learn requires trust and empowerment. To learn requires comfortable and even ground.

Chad Patton, Director of our Customized Workplace English program, spoke with Zina about her story. 

Zina speaks four languages, is raising two boys with her husband, and has a goal of becoming a nurse “so I can help people [and] help my family.” She also happens to be an Iraqi refugee who immigrated to the United States by way of Sweden.Zina copy

Like many other immigrants, Zina learned how to speak and understand English through watching television. I first met Zina when she came to the Literacy Center to further advance her literacy skills. She enrolled in our advanced English language classes and quickly “graduated” by reaching above a 9th grade reading level.

Katherine Payne, a Literacy Coordinator with the Adult Tutoring Program, submitted this profile of Ahmed and his tutor, Rachael.

Ahmed has been working with his tutor, Rachael, for more than one year. Ahmed, a Sudanese refugee, is incredibly devoted to improving his English skills. Since working with his tutor, he has also enrolled in English classes through the Literacy Center’s Customized Workplace English program.

Ahmed works for a local manufacturing plant that is in the process of laying off all employees at his plant due to advancement in robotic technologies. With the threat of being laid off constantly in the back of his mind, Ahmed pushes himself to constantly improve his understanding of English so that he has the skills to find his own future employment.

Guest Blogger: Preston Wyckoff, AmeriCorps English Language Instructor with the Family Literacy Program

Once a month at the Literacy Center, the English language instructors put on an event for the benefit of their learners and their families. These Family Activity Nights, or FANs, provide an opportunity for students of all levels, from absolute beginners to more advanced speakers of English, to practice their English skills in a more natural, social setting. Each event is made up of a group dinner and a subsequent activity designed to get both the adult learners to bond with their children and fellow learners while using English language skills.

At the first of these events held this year, I was encouraged to see that the majority of my learners had shown up with their children, their spouses, and other family members, and for the most part were enjoying themselves and chatting amongst one another. The activity for the October FAN was to create and illustrate a book featuring sentences about the values associated with the celebration of Thanksgiving.

The Literacy Center of West Michigan is honored to receive donations in memory of Linda Alkire who passed away earlier this month. Linda was a tutor at the Literacy Center and her family is asking that memorial donations be directed to the Literacy Center. Valerie Emmenecker, Director of the Adult Tutoring Program, shares her memories of working with Linda and her learner, Seida:

“Linda Alkire joined the Adult Tutoring Program in April 2012. She worked with a woman named Seida Perviz. Within a few weeks, Seida and Linda formed a close personal relationship. Linda did an exercise with Seida where she asked about Seida’s immigration story. Seida experienced serious political trauma in her home country of Bosnia and Linda provided a sympathetic ear. While they were working together, Linda helped Seida get her first job in the U.S.

Quatina and her tutor Tara

Hi, my name is Quatina Michael. I have three kids, and their names are Damion, Alexis and Dae’Qwan. They go to Kentwood Public Schools. Damion is in the 12th grade, Alexis is in the 9th grade, and Dae’Qwan is in the 8th grade.

Dae’Qwan got a job this past summer raking grass. I am so proud of him, it’s his first job and he is so happy too. The kids stay with their grandma, but they come over almost every day in the summer to see us and we spend time with them going swimming, going to the movies together, just staying home watching a movie on TV, or having a picnic at the park. Over the summer they started to meet some of their cousins and an uncle they have never met before. My youngest son asked a lot of different questions about his family he never met before.

 On Monday, December 5, the Literacy Center of West Michigan received a grant from the Michigan Office of New Americans to (MONA) to create a construction career pathway, including ESL instruction, for refugees in West Michigan. One of only five recipients statewide, the Literacy Center will be partnering on the project with West Michigan Works!, Associated Builders and Contractors Inc. West Michigan Chapter (ABCWM), and Grand Rapids Community College’s (GRCC) Workforce Training.

Through this partnership, West Michigan Works! will recruit refugees who are interested in learning English for the construction sector. The learners will begin with 10 weeks of ESL instruction from the Literacy Center in preparation for ABCWM’s 13-week Construction Core class.

Learners are expected to graduate from the 23-week course with an OSHA 10-hour certification, a National Center for Construction Education and Research (NCCER) Core Construction certification, and a rough terrain forklift license.

Mario Vinson has lived his entire life in Grand Rapids. It wasn’t until his case manager at Heartside Ministry suggested taking English lessons, that he discovered the Literacy Center of West Michigan.

“I wanted to find a way to get my GED.” he said.

Mario lives with a learning disability and has made great progress with the help of a tutor. Since enrolling the Adult Tutoring Program in 2015 Mario has increased his reading level from the fifth-grade to the seventh-grade.

“My favorite part has been reading Robin Hood,” he said. “I had never read that before coming here.”

Mario says that the Literacy Center provides a nice and quiet environment for him to study. He likes the staff and enjoys how his coordinator keeps him updated about his progress.

“Adverbs are the hardest,” he says about learning, “but, I am having fun.”

Mario is working with his tutor on the Reading, Social Studies, Science, and Math portions of the GED. He hopes to take the test and continue making progress.

Nineteen years ago, Ludi Trevino moved to the United States from Mexico and married her current husband, Joel. Joel and Ludi live in Grand Rapids with their three children, Andrea (17), Elias (13), and Isaac (7).

Ludi first heard about the Literacy Center through North Godwin Elementary, where her son, Isaac, attends school. Although she had enrolled in English classes when she first arrived in the US, she felt that she needed more practice. Ludi’s goal was to help all of her kids with their homework and be able to speak English with them, so one of Isaac’s teachers suggested contacting the Literacy Center.

“I was also worried about my teenage daughter,” she said. “This is the time girls get boyfriends! I wanted to know what her and her friends were talking about in English,” she said. “I wanted to be—what’s the word?—alert!”
Staying connected to the Spanish language while learning English is important to Ludi, especially for her children. At home, she and her family speak almost entirely Spanish, with the exception of watching English movies or television shows with Spanish subtitles.

Ludi has been meeting with tutors for four years improving her writing, pronunciation, and grammar. As she continues to learn more and more English, and as her kids grow up, she hopes to secure a job by using her well-practiced English skills.

Paloma Deerfield just completed her service as an AmeriCorps Family Literacy Instructor at Buchanan and Cesar Chavez elementary schools. Paloma began her service later than many of her fellow members, but writes that “the classroom community that my learners and I created in the few months that we learned together was a unique experience that I hold dear.” After AmeriCorps, Paloma will continue to work at her “dream job” at Midnight Vault comic book store in downtown Grand Rapids.

Time is such a relative, nearly inapplicable measurement of the strength of bonds formed by individuals. In the four short months that my learners and I spent together, learning from one another, a strong bond and a great sense of community formed.

A family growing together through literacy

For Ardany de Leon and Mirna Lopez, nothing is more important than empowering themselves and their three children through literacy and learning. Ardany, Mirna, Ardany Jr., Diego, and Camila regularly volunteer at Kroc Center church events, they work out together through the FitKids On the Run program, and they participate in the Literacy Center’s Family Literacy Program. Ardany and Mirna are changing their own lives and those of their children by all the effort they have put into their tutoring and by becoming increasingly involved in the community.

I’m married to a former “lost boy of Sudan” who is now a United States citizen. We have four children ranging from 11 months the 10 years old and I will be thirty years old next month.

When I grew up in South Sudan things were very difficult. I lived in the village where there was no electricity, no school, no good buildings and no hospital because our country had been in civil war for 21 years between the North and the South Sudan.

My name is Norielit, I’m from Mexico. I came from Mexico a while ago and I didn’t speak any English. I went to school a couple months. When I finished that program, I decided to call Literacy Center. They helped me to find a tutor who is helping me with my learning. I am so glad to have someone who is interested in my learning.

Together we had an interview at WOODTV 8 on eightWest in September with Terri and Rachael. This was about the tutoring program. This was my first time on television. I was very nervous, but at the same time I was very excited. They asked questions about the program and how the Literacy Center helped me to learn. The people who work in television were very friendly and nice, that helped me to feel more confident.

When Jerry came to the Literacy Center of West Michigan to request a tutor to help him improve his reading and writing skills, one of his most important goals was to be able to write a note to a member of his church. Jerry is a Deacon in his church and he likes to reach out to those who are homebound or unable to attend church activities for some reason. He often visited them in person but he also wanted to write a note to them now and then.

Jerry and his tutor, Don, worked on his writing skills and in just a matter of a few weeks, Jerry was able to send his first note. For Jerry, it is very empowering to now have the confidence and skills to do this important outreach. Since his first experience, he has continued to write notes. Jerry continues to work with his tutor refining his reading and writing skills.

My Past Does Not Define the Future

Hi, my name is Charla Peterson and I want to tell you how I came to the Literacy Center of West Michigan.

I have struggled with learning most of my life. I have tried my hardest to hide this from family and friends, being embarrassed and scared to let most people know I had this “problem.”

My mother took my sister and I out of public schools when I was entering the 4th and my sister the 6th grade. Mom decided to homeschool my sister and I. At first, mom got books for us to read and learn from, but we needed more help. As time went on, mom was helping us less and less. Not knowing better, we just went with it. We ended up further and further behind. After taking with friends about things they were learning in school I saw how much I didn’t know.

I was born in Misantla, Veracruz, Mexico. I have been living in Grand Rapids for 11 years. I am married and have three daughters. Two of them are in elementary school, and the small one is 20 months old, so she is going to a preschool.

I am a volunteer at Cesar Chavez School where my girls attend. I help at Cook Library sometimes because they greatly help the neighborhood children with their programs during the school year and in the summer.

An Important Step in My Life

My name is Veronica and my primary language is Spanish. I speak English with a strong accent. For years I told myself I need to improve my English speaking and writing. This would help me to communicate better at work and outside of work.

Because English is a difficult language to learn I always made excuses to not study. One day someone mentioned the Literacy Center to me. The Literacy Center assigned me a tutor. I have been with the tutor for a year now.

Claira Freeman is an AmeriCorps Volunteer Recruiter for the Family Literacy Program. Part of her role is to arrange for volunteers to participate in the family activity nights and graduation events. We are thrilled that Claira is continuing her AmeriCorps service with us next year.

It is the end of the program year for Family Literacy Program and graduations for our classes are in full swing. Being half way through graduations, I was having a great time and really enjoying seeing all of the families come together and commemorate their accomplishments. The next one up was Sibley and I was sure that this one would not disappoint in terms of food, family, and fun.

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