News & Blog: Learner Stories


Blog Author: Iryna Kalenskaya , Literacy Center Learner 

"Hello.  My name is Iryna. I’m from Ukraine. I lived in a big industrial city of Zaporizhzhia.   I had a stable and peaceful life with my family. There are four of us. I have two kids. My daughter is 13 years-old and son is 11 years-old. I worked as a cosmetologist at the salon. I loved my job.

One day, the war comes into my country. It was the worsen day in my life.  Thousands of lives were destroyed. To protect my kids and my parents I decided to move to the USA. My husband stays in Ukraine. My sister lives in Grand Rapids. That’s why we came here.

Leaving home is never easy. Imagine making the difficult decision to leave behind everything that is familiar—people, places, culture, and language—to start fresh someplace new. This was the decision facing Yaina Mitchell in 2009. While she didn’t want to leave her home in the Dominican Republic, she felt that the United States would give her access to more opportunities and her young children a chance at a better life.

 Fung Tial and her tutor Sarabeth Carr have been working together since September 2019. Her tutor encouraged her to write an essay to practice her English, and so she chose to write about an important piece of culture from her home country (Burma). 

Kee Hnin, a learner in the Literacy Center’s tutoring program, came to the United States with her family just before the pandemic began. Kee and her husband have three children. It was through a Kent County Head Start home visitor that Kee first learned about the Literacy Center’s tutoring program.

It is a well-known fact that construction has a history of being a male-dominated field. In fact, women make up only 11% of the construction workforce in the United States. For women like Patricia, the ability to see herself using power tools and hammers was a process of unlearning cultural norms.

Growing up Patricia only saw men in her family building things. “We thought we weren’t allowed to touch [tools], it’s men’s business” Patricia said.

Written by Jennifer Summers, CWE Coordinator

Olesia and her husband Yaroslav moved from Ukraine to the United States in 2019 and soon after started English classes at the Literacy Center. When I asked her if she would feel comfortable sharing about the situation in Ukraine, Olesia jumped at the chance. She said, “now my country needs all the support and help! The more people […] know about Ukraine, the better and more informed people in Russia will be!”

 Written by Carrie Roper, IET Coordinator 

When Mousumi came with her family to the United States, she quickly realized she would have doors open to her here may not have been possible in her home country of India. Mousumi was the first in her family to graduate from college, but once she married and had children, she had was expected to focus more on taking care of her family.

Upon coming to West Michigan, Mousumi found that there were various options for her to attend English classes online while also balancing her time as a mother and helping her children in school. It was at her English classes at the Kent ISD that Mousumi learned about the online Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) English classes with the Literacy Center and Goodwill Employment Services.

When Benjamin Murekezi and his family were able to leave their refugee camp in Rwanda and come to the United States, they were excited but also scared. “To just go and not to know where I am going” and to not know English worried this father of six. 

Written by Jennifer Summers, CWE Coordinator

Donghee Kim and her husbandTroy,have brewed beer across the globe. The couple started a beer brewery in Donghee’snative South Korea. After some time there, they decided to move back toTroy’shometown of Rockford, Michigan, and start a brewery here. They opened the family business, Third Nature Brewing,to positive reviews from the local beer community

Written by Yilin Wendland-Liu, ATP Director

Hnin Kee is my learner. She is originally from Burma and has been in this country for almost two years. As a mother of four children, the three younger ones keep her busy every day, and more importantly, they keep her at home. 

Written by Carrie Roper, IET Coordinator

Cuban natives Barbara and Raul grew up in the same neighborhood in their home country, but they didn’t meet each other until they had both moved to the United States and had a chance encounter on Facebook. Not long after that, the couple found their way to West Michigan.

Written by Cynthia Salinas, Communications Coordinator

When asked about what motivates him, Kashindi, a father of eight, responds, “Right now, I’m parent for big family.” He continues, “[I’m] motivated to go to work. If not motivated, you cannot improve or prepare kids or family.” Kashindi and his family came to the United States as refugeesabout five years ago.

By Cynthia Salinas, Communications Coordinator

Jose is from a small agricultural community in Mexico. His family includes himself, his wife, and their two children, ages three and seven years old. His childhood consisted of studying and working to help his family. He came to the U.S. less than a year ago. It is his dream to, as he says, "Sacar a mi familia adelante" (Move my family forward).

By Cynthia Salinas, Communications Coordinator

“Left Mexico, good job, but I had to leave for my daughter,” Pilar shares. Pilar is a chemical engineer and a pedagogue in Mexico. However, her daughter’s heart conditions left her no choice, but to move to the U.S. to receive medical care.

Written by Rosalinda Cardenas, Learner

September 2019

My tutor and I read the story “Ten years Later Little Free Library Are Still Sparking Joy, Sharing Book.” The story was interesting. We decided to make a Little Free Library!

Written by Sara Miller, ATP Coordinator

At age 17, Rut left her home in rural Guatemala and made her way over 2,500 miles to Grand Rapids, Michigan. She had two brothers here, who wanted her to come to the U.S. to better her English skills and further her education. And, though it hasn’t been easy, Rut is doing just that. She had taken two English as a Second Language (ESL) classes at GRCC and, although the pandemic slowed down her plans, she will start her final English prerequisite class in May. In the fall, she will begin her education as a graphic designer!

Written by Autumn Jackson, ATP Coordinator

Fung came to Michigan as a refugee in 2012. Having studied some English in school in Burma, she had learned the basics of the language, but found it difficult to understand people hereAfter seeing her husband succeed in our programs, she came to the Literacy Center in 2019. She was eager to improve her speaking and writing skills and gain enough confidence with her English to support her children in school. Fung was soon paired with a tutor, Sarabeth.

Written by Chad Patton, Director of Customized Workplace English

Uwamahoro, a Congolese refugee who came to the United States by way of Uganda, had two goals when she started at the Literacy Center: learn English and become a citizen. In fact, it wasn’t very long after Uwamahoro and her family—including her mother, brother, niece, and nephew—arrived in Grand Rapids that Uwamahoro knew she wanted to be a citizen.

Written by Sara Miller, ATP Coordinator

For many, 2020 was a year of adaptation. For Lorena, it was no different. Unable to meet in person with her tutor, Steff, the pair turned to meeting virtually. But that came with its own challenges; Lorena had rarely used a computer until now. Although she was reluctant, she knew that in order to keep meeting she would have to do her best. Over the next few months they tackled the basics and mastered Zoom meetings together. One major challenge remained: email. 

Written by Carrie Roper, IET Coordinator

Sonia moved to West Michigan from her native Mexico in 2019, and found the Literacy Center soon thereafter. She wanted to practice her English to realize her goal of becoming a volunteer in the community. When Sonia tested too high for the Literacy Center’s services, she was referred to the drop-in English class we hosted at West Michigan Works.

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