News & Blog

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About: Diedre Deering joined the Literacy Center in September 2007 and currently serves as the Executive Assistant and Office Manager. Diedre supports the executive director, the board of directors, manages all office equipment and is the liaison between the office and our landlord, the City of Grand Rapids. She earned her B.A. from Davenport University in general business. In addition to her responsibilities at the Literacy Center, she is involved in several community organizations, serving as the president of the Monroe North Business Association and Neighborhood Business Alliance. She is serving her 2nd term on the Monroe North TIFA and her first term on the Cascade Township Planning Commission. She has served as a deacon and on the Pastoral Search Committee at Thornapple Community Church. 

About Me: My name is Megan Bowers, and I'm excited for my first year teaching in the Family Literacy Program. I grew up in Grand Haven, Michigan and graduated from Grand Valley State University with my Bachelor's in secondary English education and ESL.

Micki1“Compelled is a perfect word,” says Micki Benz, outgoing president of the Literacy Center’s Board of Directors. “I have not been compelled to join any board as much as I have been with the Literacy Center. It sucked me right in.”

About Me: Jennifer Summers is Program Coordinator for Customized Workplace English at the Literacy Center of West Michigan.  After receiving a B.A. in Romance Languages from DePauw University, she taught English in Japan for two years with the JET Program. The experience prompted her to pursue an M.A. in TESOL, which she earned from Eastern Michigan University. She spent several years teaching post-secondary English to speakers of other languages in Minnesota and Michigan before coming to the Literacy Center in 2016. 

In August, the Literacy Center of West Michigan welcomed Dr. Yilin Wendland-Liu as the new director of the Adult Tutoring Program (ATP). In her role, she leads the founding program of the Literacy Center—one that is designed to connect community members who have a desire to improve their English and literary skills with volunteer tutors. The pairs work one-on-one to address the learner’s personal goals. 

Having been a college professor for several years, teaching Mandarin and Chinese literature, history, culture and, at times, East Asia  culture, Yilin understands the challenges and successes  adult learners face in learning a new language. Speaking of her experience with college students learning a second language, she says, “I think one of the most rewarding moments for me as a language teacher was seeing how some of the students came in with zero background in Chinese language, in Mandarin, and then towards the end of the year, being able to conduct a conversation, speak the language, engage in daily conversation, write simple compositions, and understand.”

About me: My name is Carrie Roper, and I am the Integrated Education and Training (IET) Coordinator and an English instructor with the Customized Workplace English program. I first came to the Literacy Center in 2015 as an AmeriCorps member for the Family Literacy Program. I spent 2 and a half years serving in that role before becoming a part-time and then full-time member of the staff. I have taught classes here for almost 6 years, and have grown so much both professionally and personally. I was encouraged by my fellow staff members to get my Master’s in TESOL, which I received from Cornerstone University in 2018, and I also have a Bachelor’s in Social Work from Grand Valley State University.

About Me: I’ve been teaching ESL since 1990! I started teaching without any formal qualifications other than a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Public Relations at a Sporting Goods Company in Germany. I enjoyed it so much that I went on to get a certificate in TESOL and then went on to earn my Masters Degree in Linguistics/ TESOL. Since 1990, I’ve taught primarily Customized Workplace English, but have also taught general Adult Ed classes, Specialized courses (e.g. ESL for construction, for Industrial sewing, for Pharmacy Technicians, and for U.S. Citizenship ). I’ve taught ESL part-time for several institutions, but have been with the Literacy Center of West Michigan the longest since 2002!   

About Me: My name is Bree Straayer, and I have been teaching and tutoring English and Writing for the last ten years, primarily at the high school and college level. Before that, I worked as a licensed childcare provider for several years. This year, I graduated with my PhD in Rhetoric and Writing at Michigan State University, and being a "non-traditional" student with a full life, I am proud of that achievement. I have three children -  a daughter in college, a son in high school, and another son in middle school.

About me: Chad Patton is the director of the Customized Workplace English program at the Literacy Center of West Michigan. Chad graduated from Grand Valley State University with a dual degree in English Literature and Language and Spanish, both with an emphasis in Secondary Education. Throughout his career, Chad has been an educator in different capacities: he has coached swim teams, taught literacy to elementary school children, taught English to high school students, and now he directs an adult education program. Chad returned to school at Grand Valley to receive a master’s degree in Adult and Higher Education. He graduated with an M.Ed in 2016 and continues to practice the adult education portion of his degree by creating community programs throughout the Greater Grand Rapids area.

Written by Jennifer Summers, Program Coordinator

Maria, a new US citizen, is very excited to be voting in her first presidential election in the United States this year. As a learner at the Literacy Center since 2018, she has practiced her English during her tutoring sessions and her group classes at the Literacy Center. Her tutor, Denise, helped her to prepare to become a citizen by explaining the Constitution, quizzing her on the 100 questions, and practicing for the interview with her.

About me: Hello, my name is Alyssa and I'm originally from Grand Rapids, but have worked and lived abroad for the past 8 years! I am currently an English Instructor at the Literacy Center both for the Family Literacy and Workplace English programs. A little bit about myself is, I recently graduated with my Master's Degree in Education from the Universidad de Alcala in Madrid, Spain. I also have a Bachelor's Degree from Anderson University in Psychology. I have over 7 years of experience teaching ESL both to children and adults in the United States, South Korea and Spain. I am passionate about making English interesting, engaging and exciting for my learners! 

Written by Libby Wahlstrom, Development Director, & Cynthia Salinas, Communication Coordinator & FLP Instructor

66362871 2404157849647336 2846880043785781248 nIn the summer of 2019, hundreds of families gathered each week in local parks for family-friendly literacy events. Special guests read stories aloud, local ice cream and food vendors gave away summer treats, and every child who attended received a brand new, age-appropriate book each week. By all accounts, Storytime in the Park was a huge success. 

The idea for Storytime in the Park came many years earlier from Barbara Lubic, a professor at Grand Valley State University. She and her friend Barbara Bush—a local ice cream shop owner—wanted to do something to celebrate the parks and the community in the summer. They decided to give away books and ice cream at weekly summer gatherings in Garfield Park. What began with 50 attendees 11 years ago has turned into something far greater. 

Written by Wendy Falb, Ph.D., Executive Director

95627669 10157382148127634 5095981286569279488 o copyAs summer draws to a close, the Literacy Center is in the midst of planning for our most unusual—and important—year of programming yet. Because we know that COVID-19 has only deepened the disparities caused by low literacy, we have pushed hard to innovate in this new environment so that we can not only sustain our support of adult literacy, but expand and improve how we meet this crucial need in our community. 

Written by Carrie Roper, IET Coordinator

In the final weeks of June, we celebrated the ending of our two Citizenship Preparation ESL classes. What began as two in-person classes on opposite sides of Grand Rapids soon became a collaborative and experimental response to the communities’ needs during an uncertain time.  

 Written by Carrie Roper, IET Coordinator

Shola GroupShola came to the United Stated from Nepal in 2018 with her husband and their young daughter.  The reason?  To find better opportunities for work and to further her education.  In her home country, going on to higher education, especially in healthcare, can be very expensive.  That is why Shola was excited to hear about the certified nursing assistant (CNA) classes being offered at no cost through Goodwill and the Literacy Center.

Johanna Schulte is a Grand Rapids native. She works in the City of Grand Rapids Community Development department and has been tutoring with the Literacy Center since 2017. She recently spoke with her Literacy Coordinator about her experience. 

Why did you decide to tutor with the Literacy Center?

I was interested in finding a volunteer opportunity and found out about the work of the Literacy Center from a friend. I wanted to be involved in work that would contribute to making our community a more welcoming and equitable place.

Written by Chad Patton, Customized Workplace English Director

For Olivia, Kent District Library (KDL) was a place to check out books and movies and use the computer. But, for Olivia, the library also represented a future career.

“I like the idea to be able to work in the library,” Olivia said.

Guest blogger: Chad Patton, Director of Customized Workplace English

If there were one word to describe Antonio, it would probably be “handy.” Since Michiganders were asked to Stay Home and Stay Safe due to the Coronavirus, Antonio has been taking the time to work around the house.

Lorenzo Gutierrez moved to Belmont, MI from Saint Albans, VT when he retired in 2018. He has been a Literacy Center tutor since late 2018. He recently spoke with his Literacy Coordinator about his experience. 

Why did you decide to tutor with the Literacy Center? What was it that drew you to this volunteer opportunity?

I moved to Michigan from Vermont in May of 2018. Upon moving to Michigan, I was looking for volunteer opportunities where I could be involved in some way with my new community.

Jennifer Summers, Customized Workplace English Coordinator

Eliana started classes at the Literacy Center in January of 2018. She had come with her family from Venezuela, and she started classes with her in-laws, Larry and Coromoto. She worked hard and made rapid progress, graduating from the highest levels of our programming by the end of September that year. I recently called and had the opportunity to check in with her.

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