News & Blog: Advocate Spotlights


Yilin Wendland-Liu, Ph.D., the Literacy Center's Adult Tutoring Program director, has been selected as a W.K. Kellogg Foundation Community Leadership Network Fellow! This prestigious program is dedicated to empowering local leaders to drive transformational social change in their communities.

Nash Hirwa has joined the team as the Citizenship and Community ESL Coordinator.

"My passion for education comes from living in different communities and countries. I was raised in a small country in East Africa. Growing up my parents traveled a lot for work and that allowed me to learn 5 languages before I was 15.

Bryan Salinas is a first-generation Marketing graduate from Ferris State University. He was born in McAllen, TX, but was raised most of his life in Holland, MI.

Marcus Little is a southern California native who has called West Michigan home along with his family (wife Kelsey, children Calvin, Eva and Joey, and overly entitled dog Patrice) since 2014.

Written by Cynthia Salinas, Communications Coordinator

“My motto has been and continues to be ‘progress (toward literacy) by the inch is cinch, by the yard is hard,'” volunteer tutor Terry Weinburger shares. 

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. – February 22, 2022 – The Literacy Center of West Michigan will recognize three community leaders at its 29th annual Spellebration event on March 23 from 5:30-7:30 p.m. at the Bissell Tree House at John Ball Zoo. Minnie Morey, executive director, West Michigan Asian American Association (WMAAA), will receive the Champion of Literacy Award sponsored by Comerica. Latesha Lipscomb, director of engagement and relationships, AmplifyGR, will receive the Ledy Award for Community Engagement. And Stephen Osborn, a Literacy Center of West Michigan tutor, will receive the Marshall Pitler Volunteer of the Year Award.

Written by Jennifer Summers

I recently talked with learners in two of our community English classes and posed the question “What is something that has surprised you, in either a good way or a bad way, about the culture of West Michigan?”

Written by Megan Bowers

Untitled_design_copy_copy_copy_copy_copy_copy.pngIn my role as a Literacy Coordinator at the Literacy Center of West Michigan, Conversation Club has been the greatest way for me to get to know learners on a personal level and really see their personality shine through. Conversational skills are often a struggle for second language learners who are suddenly thrust into an environment of native English speakers. That is why I love providing an opportunity for these learners to not only practice conversation with other English language learners, but also native English speakers. That’s why volunteer involvement is so important to the goals of Conversation Club. 

Written by Chad Patton, Customized Workplace English Director

When I first started working at the Literacy Center of West Michigan in 2015, it did not take long for me to figure out that adult literacy meant more than words. For many learners, literacy is about connection. Literacy is about doing that thing that they’ve been wanting to do for years; it’s about having a conversation with the person at the grocery store checkout; it's about reading to their grandchildren; it’s about being a part of their community in a way that makes them feel welcome. Literacy is about trust. 

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.

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.

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. 

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).

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