News & Blog: Advocate Spotlights


Nancy VanIngen, Program Assistant at the Literacy Center, celebrated her 25th Anniversary with the organization in May. Katy Payne talked with her about her experience.

Katy: Nancy, thank you so much for agreeing to talk about your 25th Anniversary here at the Literacy Center. I thought we could get started by talking about how you first started at the Literacy Center and what it was like back then.

Nancy: It was the spring of 1990 when I first joined the Literacy Center. I had been working part-time while raising my children, but by the time my youngest daughter was a junior in high school I knew that I was ready to return to the workforce full-time. I had found out about this job in the Grand Rapids Press, and at that time the Literacy Center was called the Kent County Literacy Council. I had no idea what kind of work they did, but knew that it had to do with reading. Since I love to read myself, I figured I ought to check it out. After that initial interview, I remember going home and saying to my husband, “Man, I hope I get a call about that job. I think I would really love to work there.” Sure enough, the next day I got a call for a second    interview and the rest is history. My first day was April 9, 1990. At that time the organization was much smaller, so I had to fill a lot of different roles. We were only a staff of three! And slowly, we started growing and growing.

K: What’s your favorite part about working here?

N: That’s changed so much, because my job has changed so much over the years! In the beginning I did all the secretarial work, plus all of the community outreach. I also supported the Adult Tutoring Program, which was the sole program of the Literacy Center at that time. I also did the basic accounting functions, because we didn’t have an accountant at that time. At the very beginning, I had my fingers in a lot of different pieces of the pie. As we grew, my job became more defined, and I always worked closest with the Adult Tutoring Program. I would have to say my favorite part is what I’m doing now, working with the tutors and interviewing them. I’m always impressed by our tutors. They’re such a great group of people, they’re so giving of their time. Many times you’ll hear them say, “Can I meet with my learner for more than two hours a week?”

K: Do you have one memory in particular that’s your favorite from working here?

N: Just one?! We’ve had a lot of fun through the years, and we’ve always had a really great staff, too. I think the people that work for non-profits are kind of special. They have servant hearts, and they’re here because they want to help people. They probably know that they could be making a lot more money in the for-profit sector, but there’s just something very special about helping people find that tool that’s going to help them. Many times, tutors share with me when they come in for interviews that they really just want to see that “light” go on for other people. I understand that it’s important for people to have food, shelter, and clothing, but if we can give them literacy skills, we’re giving them a tool to provide those other things for   themselves and for their families. And that’s why we’re here.

K: Do you have any parting words that you’d like to share with learners and tutors?

N: To tutors, I think I would say, this volunteer opportunity is pretty hefty, it’s not something where you can just breeze in one afternoon a month a stuff envelopes. It can be very life-changing for somebody to experience this, it can guide them in those areas where they’re going to get the kind of help that they need to make huge changes in their life. So it’s not a fluffy volunteer opportunity, and we’re so appreciative of all that they do. As I think about things that tutors have shared with me, I often ask what has brought them to us as opposed to other volunteer opportunities, and they always bring up the importance of education and the need they feel to do something of influence towards that. So the love of reading; that’s what motivated me to first apply for this job, and I feel so strongly that it’s our main passport to opportunity in life. I’m glad to be here, and I love the work that we do here. It’s a privilege to be a part of an organization that has such an influence on others, and that’s what keeps bringing me back.

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