News & Blog: Advocate Spotlights

***

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. 

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.

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.

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.

Tommy Allen’s leadership has left its imprint throughout our community. As an artist, a writer, a content creator, a volunteer, and an activist, Tommy has made it his mission to be deeply engaged in some of the most important work in our community. 

Mark Peters has quietly but significantly established a new ethic on how to conduct business. As President and CEO of Butterball Farms, Inc. and co-founder of The Source, Mark recognized that business would thrive if employers took an active role in removing barriers for their employees. 

Marielle Levert, our 2021 recipient of the Marshall Pitler Volunteer of the Year Award, brings a unique perspective to her tutoring experience with the Literacy Center. In 2015, she and her family moved to Grand Rapids from their native Netherlands. Although she was a fluent English speaker, Marielle could relate our learners’ challenges of adapting to the language and customs of a new country. She set to work immediately connecting with other ex-patriots and English language learners in her adopted home. 

About: Autumn joined the Literacy Center as a coordinator for the Adult Tutoring Program in October 2020. After completing a bachelor’s in English Language & Literature at Grand Valley State University, she began her career as an English teacher in Quito, Ecuador. She later earned a master’s in TESOL at Illinois State University and taught in Indonesia with the English Language Fellowship Program. She worked with a literacy council in Madison, Wisconsin for five years before moving back to her home state of Michigan.

About: Leandra is from the Dominican Republic, but lived in the United States approximately 8 years prior to relocating to Grand Rapids. Leandra received a Bachelor Degree in Psychology and a Master’s Psychological Counseling while living in the Dominican Republic. In January 2018, she entered the Family Literacy Program as a learner who wanted to improve her English proficiency. After reaching proficient levels at the North Godwin class, she was encouraged to apply for the AmeriCorps position and ended up joining the AmeriCorps team as a Learner Support Advocate. In August of the same year, Leandra was hired as the first permanent Program Assistant for the Family Literacy Team.

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.

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.”

Sign up for our email newsletter

Get the latest word on upcoming events, opportunities and achievements, delivered straight to your mailbox.