News & Blog: Advocate Spotlights


Kiri DeYoung is an AmeriCorps member with the Literacy Center of West Michigan. Kiri DeYoung

I am completely honored to be serving as an AmeriCorps ESL Instructor with the Family Literacy program at the Literacy Center of West Michigan. Each week, I present new words, sentences and activities to groups of hard working parents with children in the Grand Rapids Public School system so they can practice a little bit more English.

Learning a new language is tough work that requires an inspirational amount of vulnerability. It takes courage and a never-give-up kind of determination. To learn requires trust and empowerment. To learn requires comfortable and even ground.

This trust is built when mistakes are made and humanity is shown. It’s leveling the playing field. Trust is built when the marker is handed over with all the support to succeed. Trust is built by intentionally sitting at a table instead of standing center stage. Trust is built when the room is full of ease and laughing. Trust is built when you get a little too excited when a learner pronounces the “th” sound right on the first try after a week of practicing. It comes from paying attention and being intentional. Trust comes from learning together as a group, as a family.

There are times when this trust means debating the warmth of tequila and the difference between drink, drank and drunk after someone uses the word wrong.

The gap gets a little bit smaller when everyone laughs at the same volume despite language or place of birth. There are times when this trust means attempting to mend the hurt that the host culture’s people has inflicted on foreign families. Other times, trust means the shyest person in class asks you how to pronoun and spell lingerie. It’s when a learner brings you a letter meant to entrap them and asks you to help them decipher the language. There are times when this trust looks like organic conversation in English and sharing a meal. But, most of all this trust means that the people in the class give you way more than you can ever give them. Trust me, it’s true.

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