News & Blog: Advocate Spotlights


Kari Sovereign served as an AmeriCorps member with the Literacy Center last year, and is returning this year for a second service year. She spoke with Libby Wahlstrom about her experience. 

Why did you want to become an AmeriCorps member with the Literacy Center? 

During my Capstone for my Master’s Degree in TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages), I got involved Kari Sovereign copy copywith the Literacy Center as a volunteer tutor. I was matched with a learner from Burma, named Say Paw, and I continue to be her tutor to this day. I received information about the AmeriCorps program through my professor at Cornerstone and was immediately interested in the opportunity for teaching experience and connecting with the Grand Rapids Public Schools community.

Describe your role. What is your job like?

My official position is an ESL instructor, but we as AmeriCorps members have many roles in the community. Last year, I taught ESL classes at Cook Library, Buchannan, Burton, Dickinson and West Godwin schools in the morning and in the afternoon. My learners were adult beginning learners of English with children that attended Grand Rapids Public Schools or Godwin Heights Public Schools.

What has been the most exciting part? The most surprising or unexpected part?

The most exciting part is the opportunity to get to know the Grand Rapids community and surrounding neighborhoods. I truly enjoy meeting the families, and after a year spent teaching to them and learning from them, I feel a close connection to my learners. The most surprising or unexpected part is how much I have learned from my students about new cultures and customs. As I teach them, they teach me!

What have you learned that you didn’t know already?

I have learned about neighborhoods that I previously had very little knowledge of. I have found new parks and community resources that I didn’t know existed. I have lived in Grand Rapids since 1990 when we bought our first house in Eastown, and I have witnessed extraordinary changes in this city.

How did you grow personally or professionally this year?

I have grown professionally by serving my community and making lasting relationships with the GRPS system and the Literacy Center. I have gained valuable teaching and administrative experience in the workplace. I have grown personally from the relationships I have nurtured both in the workplace and in the community. Service projects and neighborhood improvement volunteerism has offered me the opportunity to give back to my community in tangible ways and make a real difference.

The Literacy Center is hiring 3 new AmeriCorps members to serve as instructors in the Family Literacy Program this year. Visit to learn how to apply. 

Sign up for our email newsletter

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