News & Blog

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Written by Yilin Wendland-Liu, ATP Director

Hnin Kee is my learner. She is originally from Burma and has been in this country for almost two years. As a mother of four children, the three younger ones keep her busy every day, and more importantly, they keep her at home. 

Written by Yilin Wendland-Liu, ATP Director

Hnin Kee is my learner. She is originally from Burma and has been in this country for almost two years. As a mother of four children, the three younger ones keep her busy every day, and more importantly, they keep her at home. However, Hnin has a genuine interest and strong motivation to improve her English so that she can find a job after her children are all at school. Everything considered, when we had our first tutoring meeting three months ago, Zoom seemed to be an obvious choice for our sessions. 

Our first couple of meetings went just fine. Hnin used her smartphone to get on Zoom, and I managed to find ESL resources for beginners. When Hnin received her Chromebook loan from the Literacy Center, her Literacy Coordinator and I worked to get her on online and on Zoom. I had already started to contemplate the wonderful things I could do with her during our virtual sessions: she can hold her baby and learn, I can give her remote control, and she can start navigating online resources better. 

However, Hnin was not on her Chromebook for our arranged meeting in the following week. She simply told me, “This month, and next month, no internet, no money.” I reached out to Ace Marasigan, the founder of Asian Pacific Foundation, hoping to find out potential resources to support Hnin’s internet need. Ace responded right away with an amazing offer. He and his 7-year-old son were willing to personally donate the 3 months of internet cost to help Hnin finish her school.  Although in the end we didn’t need to take him up on his offer, words couldn’t describe my respect and appreciation for Ace and his son. 

Instead, we were able to find a hotspot loan program through the Grand Rapids Public Library. Hnin received her hotspot device quickly and learned how to set it up at her house. With the help of John Bosma, the community manager of GRPL, we were even able to navigate the device renewal process. In fact, John met me at Hnin’s home to drop off the recently renewed device. Through John’s help, this GRPL device will stay at Hnin’s house for 6 months!  

Hnin has been using her Chromebook for our meeting sessions ever since. She had completed several Burlington English student lessons all by herself. By the time the device needs to go back to the library, she will have 60+ hours of instruction. While her journey to improve her English has just started, the people and the communities that helped her to arrive at the starting point are and will continue accompany her on the journey. They help remind us of an era where digital literacy and humanity are needed more than ever. 

Written by Carrie Roper, IET Coordinator

Cuban natives Barbara and Raul grew up in the same neighborhood in their home country, but they didn’t meet each other until they had both moved to the United States and had a chance encounter on Facebook. Not long after that, the couple found their way to West Michigan.

About: Dr. Soman earned her Ph.D. in chemistry at Purdue University and joined GVSU in the Chemistry Department in 2000.  Dr. Soman is currently the Dean of College of Education and Community Innovation and has served in a number of leadership roles during her career at Grand Valley State University, including Associate Vice President for Enrollment Development & University Registrar, Director of Financial Aid, Interim Assistant Vice President for Academic Affairs, and Associate Dean in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.  

About: Sharron led the GRPS Human Resources & Legal Services Department. Sharron had over 23 years of experience working in a K-12 environment, having served as the General Counsel and Chief of Staff in a large urban school system prior to joining the GRPS team. Sharron has been a lawyer for 40 years specializing in the areas of school law, employment law and litigation.

About: Tim is a partner on the firm's Litigation and Trial Practice Team. His practice focuses on helping clients resolve business disputes, including complex commercial tort and contract litigation, supply chain disputes, trade secret and unfair competition matters, and corporate governance issues.

About: Deidra Mitchell serves as President & CEO of Waséyabek Development Company, LLC (WDC), a 100% Tribally-owned economic development entity of the Nottawaseppi Huron Band of the Potawatomi (NHBP).

About: Lilibeth is the Lead Planner and Founder of Isabel Events & Design, LLC. She has more than 10 years of experience in association and non-profit management, marketing, communications, development and conference coordination.

Written by Cynthia Salinas, Communications Coordinator

When asked about what motivates him, Kashindi, a father of eight, responds, “Right now, I’m parent for big family.” He continues, “[I’m] motivated to go to work. If not motivated, you cannot improve or prepare kids or family.” Kashindi and his family came to the United States as refugeesabout five years ago.

About: Suzette Hershman, MHA serves as SVP, Operations, Spectrum Health Medical Group, one of the largest and most comprehensive multispecialty physician groups in West Michigan. Spectrum Health Medical Group is part of Spectrum Health West Michigan, a not-for-profit integrated health system based in West Michigan.

Written by Cynthia Salinas, Communications Coordinator 

The Literacy Center of West Michigan's Community Literacy Initiative (CLI) is winding down, but its collaborative work on literacy remains.  

By Cynthia Salinas, Communications Coordinator

Jose is from a small agricultural community in Mexico. His family includes himself, his wife, and their two children, ages three and seven years old. His childhood consisted of studying and working to help his family. He came to the U.S. less than a year ago. It is his dream to, as he says, "Sacar a mi familia adelante" (Move my family forward).

By Cynthia Salinas, Communications Coordinator

“Left Mexico, good job, but I had to leave for my daughter,” Pilar shares. Pilar is a chemical engineer and a pedagogue in Mexico. However, her daughter’s heart conditions left her no choice, but to move to the U.S. to receive medical care.

The Literacy Center is pleased to announce Dr. Bree Straayer as the new director of the Family Literacy Program (FLP). FLP seeks to strengthen the communication and involvement of non-native-English-speaking parents with their child’s school and education.

About: Born in Detroit in 1956 and raised in Benton Harbor, David Edwards is a life-long Michigan resident.

Currently he and his wife Patricia live in a home on Lake Michigan in Douglas that Pat and David constructed following his 2019 retirement.

David earned a BA in Economics and an MBA in Finance prior to working 38 years for large, multi-national commercial banks and retired as Managing Partner and Head of West Michigan operations for Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce (CIBC).

About: Jeff worked for several years as a Lean Manufacturing consultant prior to joining Steelcase in 2000, where he has held several Finance positions in Manufacturing Operations, Supply Chain, Logistics, and Product Development. He is currently a Channel Manager and consult with our Dealer network to develop technology competencies for their businesses. Jeff holds his MBA from Western Michigan University and a Supply Chain Certification from MSU. He has led or volunteered for several organizations ranging from Habitat for Humanity to youth sports leagues. Jeff is grateful to have tutored learners and recruited tutors for LCWM. 

By Learner Rosalinda Cardenas

September 2019

My tutor and I read the story “Ten years Later Little Free Library Are Still Sparking Joy, Sharing Book.” The story was interesting. We decided to make a Little Free Library!

About: Omar Cuevas is the Vice President of Sales and Marketing for the Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce; the second largest chamber in the State of Michigan. Omar oversees revenue generation for the organization and how the Chamber tells its story. Omar has a background in finance having an 18-year career in the financial industry; most of which were at Fifth Third Bank. He led financial literacy initiatives along with expanding the bank’s growth in West Michigan’s growing Latino population. As a member of the Grand Rapids Chamber executive team, he has influenced organizational priorities of inclusivity and belonging. Omar is part of the leadership team driving the work of the Kent County-City of Grand Rapids welcome plan in partnership with Gateways for Growth. His work is driven by the principle that Diversity, Equity and Inclusion is the right thing to do. A community that embraces inclusion can increase innovation, acceptance and problem-solving capacity; which leads to a competitive advantage.

About: Michaelyn (MickiBenz served as Vice President at Mercy Health Saint Mary's  for twenty-five years, until October 2019,  having varied responsibilities including fundraising for the Lacks Cancer Center, the Hauenstein Center, and several outpatient health centers.  In that capacity, she led teams of staff and volunteers in raising $62 million for those projects. She also was responsible for political advocacy, community relations, and media relations. Micki is committed to the local community and has volunteered actively for dozens of organizations and committees over the years, including her past positions as board chair for the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce (where she was also the first female board chair of the organization), Grand Rapids Urban League, Pilgrim Manor Retirement, Grand Rapids Historical Commission, and Catholic Social Services (now Catholic Charities).

About: Adam Russo is a lifelong learner who is deeply rooted in the West Michigan communications community. As the owner of public relations firm COM 616, his professional experience includes working with global brands like Haworth and Amway, regional companies like Varnum and Comcast, as well as nonprofits like the Mosaic Film Experience and Sunset Retirement Communities. Outside of the office, Adam is committed to community service and fitness. He currently serves as an executive board member for the Literacy Center of West Michigan, a board member for Affinity Mentoring, an ambassador for the Grand Rapids Chamber, and a member of the Kent County Prevention Coalition. He is also the former president for the West Michigan Public Relations Society of America. Adam is a two-time Grand Rapids Business Journal “40 Under 40” honoree and a two-time finalist for the Grand Rapids Chamber’s Young Entrepreneur of the Year. He also has served as an adjunct public relations professor at his alma mater Grand Valley State University.

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