News & Blog

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 The Literacy Center's Eleventh Annual Wine & Words event will be hosted at 333 Fountain Street NE on Wednesday, November 8 from 6-9 pm. Purchase tickets online at www.literacycenterwm.org/wine-words

The lovely Italianate home, located at the corner of Fountain and Prospect in Grand Rapids' Heritage Hill district, House Photo 2was constructed in the 1876 by Norman D. Carpenter. Mr. Carpenter was a partner in Carpenter, Judd & Company, a wholesale and retail dealership specializing in hardware and stoves. He resided in the home until the 1890s when he sold it and moved to Los Angeles.

Guest Post by Mike Nassar, M.Ed.
Director, Community Literacy Initiative

The Literacy Center's Annual Community Literacy Summit, Reading by Third Grade: Our Shared Opportunity, Our Shared Responsibility, will be held on Thursday, January 25, 2018 from 7:30 am- 1:00 pm at Grand Valley State University's Eberhard Center.

There has been no shortage of debate about the State of Michigan’s recent law on third grade reading. Schools arechild reading currently working to get the word out to families about the law and its implications, while also preparing teachers for upcoming meetings with parents. Improving reading results for children in West Michigan is important to all of us.

This year’s Community Literacy Summit seeks to bring together community members to further discuss and understand the issues and conditions associated with a child reading proficiently by the end of third grade.

Do you have something to contribute to the conversation? Our deadline has been extended to October 30 for presentation proposals for our break-out sessions.

Alfonso GuerraIn our March 2015 e-newsletter, we introduced you to Alfonso Guerra, a native of Nicaragua, who came to the United States for better medical care, and took classes from the Literacy Center to improve his English. 

At that time he wrote: "English classes have already impacted me communicatively and comprehending better with my clients and the community. I am feeling more confident. My present and main goals now are to dominate English language, to socialize with the North American community, and looking for more customers. Finally I am happy living in U.S.A."

It was in those classes that Alfonso met Carolina Cnol, a Literacy Center learner who was an attorney and a congresswoman in her native Honduras. The two have dated for the last two years. But their story is bittersweet.

On September 8, Alfonso said goodbye to Carolina and flew from Grand Rapids to Nicaragua. Returning "home," helped by the kindness and generosity of friends and strangers, was his final wish as his prostate cancer advanced. Read more about the story, as told by his team at Spectrum Health Hospice.

Guest Post by Mike Nassar
Director, Community Literacy Initiative

The Literacy Center's Community Literacy Summit will be held on Thursday, Janunary 25, 2018 from 7:30 am- 1:00 pm at Grand Valley State University's Eberhard Center. 

As many of us have heard by now, third grade reading is the most important predictor of high school graduation and career success. According to The Campaign for Grade Level Reading, approximately 67% of children nationwide are not proficient readers by the end of third grade. It jumps to 80% for children from families with low incomes. Locally, half of all students in Kent County are not reading proficiently by third grade. For students of color, that number rises to 74%.

These statistics have very real and very significant consequences not only for each of these children, but also for ourParent and child reading community. If left unchecked, these low levels of proficiency will undermine efforts to end intergenerational poverty, close the achievement gap, and reduce high school dropout rates. Far fewer of the next generation will be prepared to participate in higher education and in our growing local economy.

We are pleased to announce the hire of Miguelina Quiñones as the new director of our Family Literacy Program Miguelina Quinones(FLP), a program that strengthens the connection between home and school by addressing the literacy needs of adults in children’s lives.

A native of the Dominican Republic, Miguelina has been a classroom teacher and school administer for 20 years. She earned her B.A. from Herbert H. Lehman College and M.A. from College of New Rochelle, and is certified in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL).

Q & A with Anna Linder, outgoing AmeriCorps Bilingual Learner Support Advocate. The Literacy Center is currently accepting applications for this AmeriCorps position for the 2017-18 program year. 

1. What first drew you to this AmeriCorps position at the Literacy Center?Anna Lindner

I was referred to AmeriCorps by my mentor at Calvin College, who knows about my passion for racial justice. I chose the Bilingual Learner Support Advocate position because I would be able to speak Spanish and interact with learners, continue my work with data, and be in an academic environment, which would utilize my strengths.

2. What is your favorite part about the position?

I enjoy the relationships/coordinating aspect of my position. I work with instructors to ensure that we have collected all the correct data by delegating and by visiting schools whenever necessary. Our team works together very well, and it’s been satisfying to see everything get done efficiently and effectively.

This post was written by Jamie Lesman, an AmeriCorps Family Literacy Tutor

Chandra came to Grand Rapids with her family in 2012 as a refugee. She was born in Bhutan and had lived in Nepal for many years chandra copybefore coming to West Michigan. I first met Chandra at a South Godwin Head Start open house and we began our language literacy journey together in September.

During our tutoring session, we talk, listen and exchange ideas about each other’s lives, which has a strong impact on both of us. We share motherhood together, experiences of living in other countries, and the ideas of empowering our daughters by showing them what it takes to be a strong and independent woman through literacy. Chandra also volunteers at a local international church to help fellow refugee women as a Nepali interpreter.

 Written by Chad Patton, Director of Customized Workplace English 

Developing a strong community within a classroom is one of the keys to educational success. This is perhaps even moreClassroom celebration important in a classroom of adult English language learners. After all, many of them are new to the country, or feel isolated because of their lack of English skills. In our own classes, we strive to create a sense of community in order to lessen some of that isolation and “otherness” that our learners might experience outside of the Literacy Center.

The Literacy Center offers three levels of classes to English language learners each quarter. The classes, which take place three times a week at our office, are led by instructors who work incredibly hard to not only teach English, but to create connections between learners.

 This article was written by Jisun Lee for The Reader, our learner newsletter. Jisun and her tutor, Elizabeth Zandstra, have been working together since April

imagesI came to Grand Rapids, Michigan last August in 2015 with my husband who studies at Calvin seminary. I have been living in Michigan for over one year.

I was born and grew up in South Korea in North-East Asia. I had never lived in other countries before coming here, so it was a challenge for me to live in the U.S.A. I thought that there would be a language and culture barrier. Moreover my family and some friends of mine were worried that I would feel lonely and it might be stressful moving to a new country. Nevertheless, since I had an interest and curiosity about the culture that I’d never experience, I hope that I could be more mature while experiencing a variety of new things.

I've met many Koreans and Americans here. They’ve helped my husband and me adapt ourselves to this new place. They’ve given us information that we didn't know well at first. Our friends here brought us food, furniture and many warm words. Although most Americans I’ve met personally could not understand what I said, they’ve treated me so kindly and were so friendly.

Also, I've discovered beautiful nature here in Grand Rapids. It is not a complex city so that I can see the high and wide sky. I enjoy very tall and big trees and beautiful Lake Michigan like the Sea. When I went to Lake Michigan for the first time, I was amazed at its size. Whenever I see the landscape, I think that the U.S.A. is a big country.

I've had so many opportunities since I've been in Grand Rapids. If I want to learn English, I can do it. There are lots of programs and volunteers in this community. I want to communicate with others in this society so, I'm learning English.

Although many parts of this culture are different from my country, sometimes it’s a little confusing. I want to learn more about the good traditions and cultures of this country. During this time in Grand Rapids, I’ll enjoy this experience. And I’ll never forget all the people who gladly helped me here. I want to be someone who can understand and help the people in need after I return to my country.

My Learning Story

By: Erica Gonzalez, Learner

Erica Gonzalez and Laurie Emelander w release

My name is Erica Gonzalez and I am forty two years old. I have two daughters. Samantha she is 7 and Camila is 4. When we arrived in this country I did not speak English, and I came to the Literacy Center for help.

Then my history began. Tom the coordinator called me in April to tell me that I had a tutor. I never imagined I could have grown so much in two years.

I visited the Library each week to meet Laurie Emelander my tutor. She is the best person that I had found in my life!

She has been the most patient, comprehensive, encouraging. She always had a positive disposition, and we taught each other about our different cultures. There are no words for how grateful I am to Laurie. Thank you for being a part of my life.

 

My Tutoring Story

By: Laurie Zarzecki Emelander, Tutor

I began working as the Accounting Clerk/Clerical Assistant at the Literacy Center of West Michigan (at that time, the Kent County Literacy Council) in January of 1994. A lot has changed since then. Our organization has grown in every way –budget, space, programs, numbers of individuals served. I am now the Finance Director. Two things have remained the same– our purpose, and the fact that our learners have always achieved great things.

When Wendy Falb became Executive Director in 2014, she encouraged and supported staff members to participate in our mission and become a tutor. I accepted the challenge and completed tutor training in April 2015. I got my first learner, Erica, in May of 2015. Tutoring quickly became the most challenging and rewarding aspect of my week.

Erica is one of the hardest working people I know! She has a continuous thirst for more and more knowledge. I prepared lessons and worked with Erica once a week. Erica did a lot of extra work on her own, constantly challenging herself to speak more English at work, in her daughters’ schools, at the doctor’s office, and many other places. She said at times it was difficult for her but she worked hard and learned more. It was wonderful to hear about each of her new accomplishments. We shared so much more than just English lessons! We shared our culture, holiday traditions, family stories and life experiences.

When Erica and I first met, she asked me if I spoke Spanish; her reaction when I said I did not was “oh, No!” At some point in the middle of our 22 months together I remember her saying, “I’m not afraid to speak English anymore!” And now she has graduated from our program!

I wish Erica all the best in her future and continued studies. She has achieved so much! I hope all of her dreams come true.

I will be helping another learner soon. And I strongly encourage everyone out there to become a volunteer tutor, help someone, and be open to a truly rewarding experience.

 A special thank you to our friends at Art Peers for producing the our very first honoree tribute video for our 2017 Spellebration award recipients.

Written by Claira Freeman, AmeriCorps Volunteer Coordinator

Rylie Eastley is a constant presence at the Literacy Center of West Michigan's Family Activity Nights. These monthly events at Riley with kidsthe child’s school engage the entire family in learning literacy skills together. Once a month for more than a year, Rylie has helped to facilitate literacy activities at these events. More importantly, she has helped to build community with our learners and their families.

In addition to being engaged and present, Rylie is a joyful volunteer. She says that she loves being able to invest her time in a community that has invested so much in her. She has been a part of the Family Literacy Program almost as long as I have, making her dedication to our events even more special to me.

From the beginning, Lee Ann Soodsma went all-in on tutoring with the Literacy Center. She began tutoring three years ago and has taken on not one, but two learners. Lee Ann tutors both Marvin, a father of five, and Audelina, a native Spanish speaker with children.

Lee Ann Soodsma“Tutoring sessions with Lee Ann go far beyond workbooks,” writes Literacy Coordinator Tom Rodgers. As an example, Lee Ann took Marvin to get his library card within the first few sessions of tutoring. She then reported that he brought his whole family to the library again just three days later to visit and check out materials. Several times, she has taken Marvin and his children on field trips around the Greater Grand Rapids area using the Check-It-Out program through the Grand Rapids Public Library. She even reports using a stop for ice cream as a reward for speaking English the entire field trip. Always the advocate, Lee Ann also accompanied Marvin on job interviews, and other important appointments.

In her work with Audelina, Lee Ann has focused on opportunities for her to practice English. Lee Ann encourages Audelina to read with her children, attend local events where she can practice English, and sign up for Spanish classes to improve her reading. In only six months, Audelina’s reading scores increased by two levels and she reports more confidence in identifying words.

Lee Ann often gets asked about her tutoring experience. She shares stories of her learners with pride, and is quick to be an advocate for tutoring. As Tom writes, “she is an integral part to the work that we do and has left an indelible mark on her learners’ lives.”

Rick and Loy Adamy have never been ones to seek attention. Rick, founder and CEO of Adamy Valuation Advisors, and Loy, Rick Spellebration 2013an elementary school teacher, have instead worked quietly and steadfastly on issues that matter to them, including literacy. 

Knowing this, Jean Dugan recruited Rick to join the Literacy Center Board of Directors in 2008. She remembers, “I knew Rick for many years and was well aware of his strong leadership skills and his deep passion for this community. Recruiting him to the board at the Literacy Center made perfect sense. He was a wonderful addition.”

When Rick was elected president of the board in November 2012, it quickly became clear that his two-year term would be anything but routine. In 2013, founding director of the Literacy Center, Susan Ledy, announced her retirement and a search began for her successor. During the transition, Rick took it upon himself to shoulder the responsibility of the organization, safeguarding the mission for the next chapter. Laurie Z. Emelander, Finance Director, remembers: “It was a very stressful time for all of us. Rick’s trust in the staff and his guidance during that time was invaluable.”

Adamys at PicnicNot only did Loy share Rick with the Literacy Center during that demanding time, she got involved herself. Loy began tutoring Kamala, a mother of three from Sudan. Kamala and Loy spends 2 hours a week together, working on Kamala’s reading and listening skills. It’s even become a family affair with Rick and Loy both engaging with Kamala and her children.

Rick and Loy will be receiving our Meijer Champion of Literacy Award at our 24th annual Spellebration event. Join on May 11 as we recognize these important contributors to our mission. Tickets are available at www.literacycenterwm.org/spellebration

 Spend an hour listening to Denise Joseph tell stories of teaching and volunteering and you’ll know right away why the Literacy Center is honoring her with the Marshall Pitler Volunteer of the Year Award at this year’s Spellebration event.

Denise and Jung Kun

A special education teacher in Comstock Park for more than 30 years, Denise was already a seasoned teacher when she started tutoring at the Literacy Center 10 years ago. Since that time, she’s tutored seven learners from all over the world. Denise is currently tutoring Jung Kun, a young mother from Korea whose husband attends Calvin Seminary. The two have a close relationship, although Denise is the first to point out that she's probably learning more from Jung Kun than the other way around. 

Norma Diaz Jeff Rees consent givenThis month, Jeff Rees and Norma Lopez will be celebrating their fourth year of partnering together on literacy. Norma, a native of Mexico, came to the Literacy Center in April 2013 to improve her English reading and speaking skills. Since that time, Jeff and Norma have made it through book four in the Harry Potter series and are now working together to help Norma study for her GED. Lately, their weekly tutoring sessions are almost entirely focused on GED preparation. They recently celebrated Norma passing the Social Studies portion of the test. Kate Law, their Literacy Coordinator, writes, “Jeff really understands that reading should be fun and engaging in order for learning to take place.”

In a unique turn of events, Jeff and Norma are now coworkers. Jeff helped Norma apply for and get a job at his company, Ranir. Jeff works as senior manufacturing engineer and Norma as an assembly line worker, which allows them to draw on this shared experience during tutoring sessions. As Kate says, “it is obvious when speaking with the two of them that they will be friends for life.”

Christina Arnold's Sense of Place

Christina Arnold, recipient of this year's Award for Community Engagement at our annual Spellebration event, has a profoud sense of place. Born and raised in Grand Rapids, Christina is the granddaughter of Daniel Christina and Mayor BlissVargas, a Mexican immigrant and one of the first Latino leaders in the community. As she tells the story, her grandfather would welcome anyone into his Grand Rapids home, providing translation services and support to his neighbors.

Formed in part by her grandfather’s passion for the Latino community in Grand Rapids, Christina spent her career at Grand Rapids Community College, helping others access educational opportunities. She was a student, then a secretary, and then an administrator. She is perhaps best known for the role she helped create at GRCC: Director of the Bob and Aleicia Woodrick Center for Equity and Inclusion.

Tutoring is a Family Affair for Champion of Literacy Recipient Loy Adamy

Loy Adamy is no stranger to the Literacy Center. For years, she has attended Literacy Center events with her husband, Rick, Loy and Kamalawho served on the Literacy Center Board of Directors. Just over a year ago, she decided to engage more deeply with the organization as a volunteer tutor. Loy has been working with her learner, Kamala, since that time.

Kamala, a 43 year old mother from the Sudan, has increased in both her reading and listening skills since working with Loy. She’s also increased involvement with her children’s schools, and secured permanent employment with a better salary and benefits. Kamala credits Loy’s assistance and encouragement with her ability to reach these goals, along with her increased self-confidence. 

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.

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