News & Blog: Learner Stories

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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.

Written by Jennifer Summers, Program Coordinator

Maria, a new US citizen, is very excited to be voting in her first presidential election in the United States this year. As a learner at the Literacy Center since 2018, she has practiced her English during her tutoring sessions and her group classes at the Literacy Center. Her tutor, Denise, helped her to prepare to become a citizen by explaining the Constitution, quizzing her on the 100 questions, and practicing for the interview with her.

Written by Carrie Roper, IET Coordinator

In the final weeks of June, we celebrated the ending of our two Citizenship Preparation ESL classes. What began as two in-person classes on opposite sides of Grand Rapids soon became a collaborative and experimental response to the communities’ needs during an uncertain time.  

 Written by Carrie Roper, IET Coordinator

Shola GroupShola came to the United Stated from Nepal in 2018 with her husband and their young daughter.  The reason?  To find better opportunities for work and to further her education.  In her home country, going on to higher education, especially in healthcare, can be very expensive.  That is why Shola was excited to hear about the certified nursing assistant (CNA) classes being offered at no cost through Goodwill and the Literacy Center.

Written by Chad Patton, Customized Workplace English Director

For Olivia, Kent District Library (KDL) was a place to check out books and movies and use the computer. But, for Olivia, the library also represented a future career.

“I like the idea to be able to work in the library,” Olivia said.

Guest blogger: Chad Patton, Director of Customized Workplace English

If there were one word to describe Antonio, it would probably be “handy.” Since Michiganders were asked to Stay Home and Stay Safe due to the Coronavirus, Antonio has been taking the time to work around the house.

Jennifer Summers, Customized Workplace English Coordinator

Eliana started classes at the Literacy Center in January of 2018. She had come with her family from Venezuela, and she started classes with her in-laws, Larry and Coromoto. She worked hard and made rapid progress, graduating from the highest levels of our programming by the end of September that year. I recently called and had the opportunity to check in with her.

Guest Blogger: Jennifer Summers, Customized Workplace English Coordinator

Maria Zamudio is a busy woman with a heart for others and a plan to get where she wants to be. She currently works for a law firm, where she helps people in the Hispanic community to address their needs. Her ultimate goal is to be a lawyer in the US so that she can continue serving her community.

Chad Patton, Director of Customized Workplace English, interviewed Debra Hardiman about her experience in the adult reading and writing class at the Literacy Center. 

When Debra Hardiman called the Literacy Center to ask about joining a class, she had to build up the courage to make the call. “I had to take a deep breath before I called,” Debra said.

Gonzalo is a learner in our tutoring program and takes English classes at his children's school with our family literacy program. He wrote about his experience. 

My name is Gonzalo Gonzalez.

I am from Guatemala. I was 19 years old when I came to America. I work for Ventra. I live near Buchanan elementary school. I am married and have 5 children. They are 3-5-7-9 and 11.

Guest blogger: Jennifer Summers, Customized Workplace English Program Coordinator

When we first profiled Ahmed Abdo in January 2017, he was preparing for a plant-wide layoff at work and studying to become a U.S. citizen. Since then, he’s made significant progress toward his goals as he continues to study with both the tutoring and workplace English programs at the Literacy Center. I sat down with him again this month to talk about his journey and his next steps.

Guest Blogger: Rebekah Ewing, Literacy Coordinator

Last week, we celebrated with Pedro de Ingunza Aguilar as he graduated from our Adult Tutoring Program. After just eight months of working alongside his tutor, Julie Gendler, Pedro reached the 9th grade reading level! He reports that now he can communicate better at work, pronounce words better, and understand what people say.

Guest Blogger: Carrie Roper, IET Coordinator

Rosa Chen originally came to the Literacy Center for help with her English language skills. She quickly discovered, however, that we had many additional resources to help her pursue her goals.

Guest Blogger: Chad Patton, Director of the Literacy Center's Customized Workplace English program and Zina's career coach. 

Sitting down for her interview, Zina shows off her new badge from Spectrum Health.

“When I got my badge, [my sons] were so excited. They were kissing it.”

When we last reported on Zina, she was attending Kent ISD’s Beckwith Adult Education with the long-term goal of becoming a nurse. She was doing all of this while raising her two sons with her husband and providing childcare at her sons’ school.

Today, Zina is excited to talk about her accomplishments. As of late, she has many. She is now a mother of three, she has a new certification, and she has a new job.

Guest blogger: Emilio Nieto, Literacy Center’s Recruitment and Retention Specialist and Class Instructor

Charles came to the Literacy Center of West Michigan to improve his reading and writing skills. In his early career, Charles was skilled in electronic and computer work. Despite having difficulty reading manuals, he figured out how to do the work by trial and error. This allowed him to mask his difficulties with reading.

Fatos, Apo, and their two sons moved to the United States from Istanbul. Before coming here, Fatos and Apo were business partners in their home country. Given her experience as a business owner, Fatos was able to quickly spot a need in West Michigan’s business community.

“When I came to here… I did not see that a restaurant had fresh and homemade food.”

Together, they began to design their restaurant and café: Café de Miro. However, they faced a few barriers.

“I can’t open one of these stores,” Fatos says, “because I don’t speak English too well.” That’s when Fatos and Apo came to the Literacy Center.

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