News & Blog: Community


GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. – October 19, 2022 – The Literacy Center of West Michigan today announced it is the recipient of a $300,000 federal grant from the department of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). The funding will support the citizenship-based English as a second language (ESL) instruction and naturalization application services for 200 adults over a two-year period. The Literacy Center of West Michigan is partnering with Immigrant Connection at City Life Church to conduct the naturalization application services.

The need for citizenship instruction in West Michigan is acute. According to USCIS Data, Kent County is one of the top 200 counties in the nation for immigrant and refugee resettlement. In 2020 there were 32,147 non-citizens in Kent County, a number that is expected to grow as Afghan parolees and other immigrants and refugees resettle in the area.  The Literacy Center of West Michigan, in partnership with Immigrant Connection, is uniquely positioned to address this need and is eager to stand in the gap to provide these services in an environment where there are insufficient services for New Americans.

West Michigan’s immigrant population continues to grow. According to data from the Michigan League for Public Policy, between 2010 and 2020, the number of immigrants in Kent County grew by 22.9 percent and the number of residents eligible for citizenship increased by 20 percent. Since October 1, 2021, Grand Rapids has resettled 572 adult refugees, including a large number of Afghan parolees who will need ESL instruction and eventual citizenship assistance.

“This national grant is a game changer for New Americans who need help to successfully navigate the citizenship process,” said Wendy Falb, Ph.D., executive director, Literacy Center of West Michigan. “We expect that once word gets out, we will be looking to expand the program well beyond the support of this current grant.” 

The Literacy Center of West Michigan’s ESL and citizenship instruction is open to any English language learner who is at least 18 years old. The top 3 countries of origin for Literacy Center of West Michigan learners are Mexico, Guatemala and Burma. The USCIS citizenship program will provide citizenship classes for all immigrant and refugee populations in addition to partnering with organizations that specifically serve Asian, Latino and Burmese populations. 

“I’m delighted that the Literacy Center of West Michigan, which has been engaged in the important work of integrating diverse communities into the fabric of West Michigan has received federal support for their important work. West Michigan has a long tradition of welcoming immigrants from my Dutch ancestors to the recent Afghan evacuees, and it is heartwarming to see the energy with which our community continues this noble tradition and gratifying to have the Federal government support it,” said Rep. Peter Meijer, Congressman.

During the 2021 program year, the Literacy Center of West Michigan instructed 780 learners, including 75 citizenship learners. The Literacy Center of West Michigan will run 20, 11-week classes over the grant period with 10 to 20 learners per class. To administer the classes, manage enrollment and ensure compatibility with this grant, the Literacy Center of West Michigan is hiring a full-time citizenship ESL coordinator. The new position will work alongside the program director and Immigrant Connection to coordinate instruction, referrals and learner support.

Immigrant Connection at City Life Church provides low-cost, quality immigration and legal services to families and individuals in the region. In their 7 years in operation, the organization has served more than 2,500 clients. In the last year, Immigrant Connection worked with clients from 36 different countries of origin.

“We are incredibly grateful that USCIS has recognized Immigrant Connection at City Life and the Literacy Center of West Michigan for their work in helping immigrants attain citizenship. We are proud of this partnership and through this grant will assist many more immigrants, who may not have otherwise been able to access these services, on their path to citizenship", Ruth Stenfors, executive director, Immigrant Connection at City Life Church.

The Literacy Center of West Michigan’s citizenship instruction is focused on passing the citizenship test and filling out the N-400. As part of the curriculum, learners hear from a local government official and take at least one field trip to a local museum or relevant government site. Volunteers provide mock interviews to help participants practice for the one conducted by USCIS.

The Literacy Center of West Michigan is currently the only program offering regular citizenship ESL classes in Grand Rapids. At any given time, the nonprofit has a waiting list of 10 to 20 learners for citizenship classes.

The Literacy Center of West Michigan was founded in 1986 as a tutoring program for native speakers of English before expanding into English language instruction in 1998. The Literacy Center of West Michigan is one of the largest community-based adult literacy providers in the country. All Literacy Center of West Michigan programs are offered at no cost to the learner.

Sign up for our email newsletter

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