News & Blog

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The Literacy Center of West Michigan has been named as a finalist in the U.S. Department of Education’s $750,000 Rethink Adult Education Challenge, a national competition to advance pre-apprenticeship programs. The organization is one of five finalists from Michigan and the only one from outside metro Detroit. The Literacy Center’s proposal creates a career pathway for Latinas to enter the mechanical, electrical and plumbing trades by providing English instruction, workplace readiness and skills training.   

About: Yilin Wendland-Liu is the new director of the Adult Tutoring Program. She joined the Literacy Center of West Michigan on August 24, 2020. Before her new role as the ATP director, she taught at Grand Valley State University as a visiting professor for three years and served as the Grand Rapids Chinese Language School Principal for two and a half years. Yilin currently serves on the Grand Rapids International Network Committee (GRIN) and Grand Rapids Community Foundation Scholarship Selection Committee. 

About: Laurie Zarzecki Emelander has been with the Literacy Center since 1994 and is the Finance Director. She has a Bachelor of Arts degree from Aquinas College with a double major of Business Administration and Religious Studies. Laurie represents the Literacy Center and other West Michigan nonprofit organizations on the statewide 501 Alliance Board of Directors. With her second major, she volunteers as an adult catechist and is on the Pastoral Council at her church.

Written by Carrie Roper, IET Coordinator

Sonia moved to West Michigan from her native Mexico in 2019, and found the Literacy Center soon thereafter. She wanted to practice her English to realize her goal of becoming a volunteer in the community. When Sonia tested too high for the Literacy Center’s services, she was referred to the drop-in English class we hosted at West Michigan Works.

About Me: My name is Mike Nassar, and I am in my fifth year as Director of the Community Literacy Initiative at LCWM. Prior to coming to the Literacy Center, I was privileged to spend over thirty years in public education as a teacher, principal, and leadership coach. I also currently work with elementary student teachers as a Field Coordinator at Grand Valley State University.

About: Libby Wahlstrom is a fundraising professional with 15 years of experience in the field. She began her career at an affordable housing nonprofit in Berkeley, CA before moving to Habitat for Humanity San Francisco and then on to her alma mater, Albion College. In 2012, Libby returned to her hometown of Grand Rapids to take the position of Development Director at the Literacy Center of West Michigan. In her role at the Literacy Center, Libby directs all of the fundraising and communication efforts for the organization. Libby graduated Summa Cum Laude with a BA in History and Women’s Studies from Albion College.

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: 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: 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.  

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