News & Blog

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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.

Written by Sara Miller, ATP Coordinator

At age 17, Rut left her home in rural Guatemala and made her way over 2,500 miles to Grand Rapids, Michigan. She had two brothers here, who wanted her to come to the U.S. to better her English skills and further her education. And, though it hasn’t been easy, Rut is doing just that. She had taken two English as a Second Language (ESL) classes at GRCC and, although the pandemic slowed down her plans, she will start her final English prerequisite class in May. In the fall, she will begin her education as a graphic designer!

About: Since 2005, Melissa has provided Baker Holtz clients with income tax compliance and consulting services, with a specialization in the estates and trusts. She is currently the Tax Principal of the firm. Melissa completed her BBA in Accounting and Finance at Grand Valley State University in 2004 and received her Master of Science in Accounting a year later.  While attending GVSU, she was a member of Beta Alpha Psi, an accounting honors society. She received her CPA license in 2006.

About: Jim Ayres is a business executive and leadership consultant working with global clients and nonprofits.  Jim is a coach for individuals and organizations on strategic planning, development, project management and cultural diversity. He earned his Bachelor of Science degree in Biology/Biological Sciences from Grand Valley State University and his MBA from Davenport University. Prior to his retirement from Amway at the conclusion of 2020, Jim led all business operations for Amway North America, with a business volume exceeding $1 billion. In his 41 years at Amway, Jim also held leadership positions in Global Research and Development, Quality Assurance, and Scientific Regulatory Affairs. He has extensive experience in Global business, leading Global teams, and Global diversity in business.

About: Win Irwin graduated from Princeton University with a Bachelor of Arts Degree in 1969. He spent five years teaching history and government at Morgan Park Academy in Chicago, Illinois. He spent one year as a teaching tennis professional/manager before joining Irwin Seating Company. Win has been at Irwin Seating Company for 43 years and has worked as a Quality Control Person, Wood Plant Superintendent, Education Sales Manager, Factory Plant Superintendent, Vice President of Manufacturing, and President & CEO.

Written by Autumn Jackson, ATP Coordinator

Fung came to Michigan as a refugee in 2012. Having studied some English in school in Burma, she had learned the basics of the language, but found it difficult to understand people hereAfter seeing her husband succeed in our programs, she came to the Literacy Center in 2019. She was eager to improve her speaking and writing skills and gain enough confidence with her English to support her children in school. Fung was soon paired with a tutor, Sarabeth.

About me: My name is Sara Miller, and I’ve worked as a coordinator for the Adult Tutoring Program for about six months. In 2006, I moved to Taiwan to teach English as a second language and discovered I loved it! Since then, I’ve taught in several different countries including Malta, Turkey, Mexico, and Vietnam, and earned an MA in curriculum and instruction of English as a second language. I came back to the US in 2019 and am enjoying being close to family and old friends.

Written by Chad Patton, Director of Customized Workplace English

Uwamahoro, a Congolese refugee who came to the United States by way of Uganda, had two goals when she started at the Literacy Center: learn English and become a citizen. In fact, it wasn’t very long after Uwamahoro and her family—including her mother, brother, niece, and nephew—arrived in Grand Rapids that Uwamahoro knew she wanted to be a citizen.

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