News & Blog: Learner Stories

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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.

Written by Jennifer Summers, Customized Workplace English Coordinator

When Larry and Coromoto visited the U.S. in 2017, they planned to stay for 15 days. However, the instability in their home country of Venezuela was worsening by the day, and their son, a doctor who had been practicing medicine here for 20 years, persuaded them to stay in Grand Rapids.

Salvador Geron wrote this article for our Spring 2019 edition of The Reader, our learner/tutor newsletter. Salvador and his tutor, Gerri, have been working together since October 2018.

If I could have three wishes they would be the following:

For my 1st wish is that poverty would disappear in the world, because I see people who have nothing to eat.

My 2nd wish would be to remove the hatred people have about the differences of races. People should be able to see each other regardless of the color of their skin, and help each other.

By Olivia Montero, a recent graduate from our Adult Tutoring Program. She and her tutor, Tim Bolema, worked together from May 2017 until she graduated in August 2018. Olivia wrote this story for our Fall 2018 edition of The Reader, our newsletter of learner writing. 

I recently became interested in eating healthy foods. I have been thinking of having a garden. Then a friend told me about a place where there is a community garden sponsored by church. I was able to rent a small plot. I was very excited because I have a garden of my own.

Blogger: Carrie Roper, Literacy Coordinator

Monika Skripal’s motivation for practicing her English language skills always comes back to one thing: family. As the mother of Monika Skripaltwo young daughters, Monika is using her English daily to advocate for their needs and to support their education. In fact, it was through their school – West Godwin Elementary – that Monika first heard about the parent-focused English classes offered through the Literacy Center’s Family Literacy Program.

For Lili and her husband Omary, literacy is a family affair.

The couple, both born in the Congo, struggled to find jobs in West Michigan that would support their family of five and Lili Photo copy copyprovide meaningful work. They each felt that their English literacy levels limited their ability to work in their desired fields—Omary as an electrician and Lili in healthcare. 

That’s when Omary discovered the Literacy Center. He enrolled in the Construction Core program, a partnership with the Literacy Center and Grand Rapids Community College’s M-TEC. Soon after, Lili enrolled in a similar class for Certified Nurse Aid (CNA). Both of these classes taught the necessary job skills with the support of an English language instructor from the Literacy Center.

A Second Chance at a Dream: Rachida's Story

Written by Carrie Roper (Literacy Coordinator)

Rachida was born in Algeria, and always dreamt of working in the very competitive healthcare field in her country. Instead, RachidaRachida graduated with a degree in Marketing and took a position as an administrative assistant in the Ministry of Environment and Renewable Energy.

When Rachida moved to Grand Rapids in December of 2017 to join her husband, she saw an opportunity to change her career. It was a second chance for her dream: to start from the beginning of her journey into the healthcare field.

Guest blogger: Franciel Palencia
Franciel is a learner in our Adult Tutoring Program and wrote this article for The Reader, our quarterly learner newsletter. 

Franciel Palencia

My name is Franciel. I am from Venezuela which is the country in South America near Columbia and Brazil. I have two kids: Santiago and Andres. Santiago is 9 years old, he is in 4th grade and he loves to play soccer. Andres is 7 years old. He is in 2nd grade and he likes to swim and play Legos all time.

My husband’s name is Jose Luis Rivas. We have been married for 12 years. He likes to wake up early and read the bible, while he drinks his coffee. We met in college UPEL-IPB (pedagogical).

 Blog Author: Jennifer Summers, Customized Workplace English Coordinator

After dedicating her time to raising her children for several years, Anna Jean Cater decided that she needed to do Annasomething for herself. She was certified as a math teacher in her home country of the Philippines, and had worked as a cashier at Meijer for a few years between her move to Grand Rapids and the birth of her first child, but she knew that she wanted a new career. She said, “I want to start where my weakness is, which is English.” A friend told her about the Literacy Center of West Michigan, and she enrolled in an advanced blended classroom/online ESL course. During that class, she improved her English, earned a Silver National Career Readiness Certificate, and through our online software, learned about various careers and how to navigate technology systems.

Blog Author: Chad Patton, Director of the Customized Workplace English Program

Minh was born in Vietnam and came to the United States when he was just 12 years old. A straight-A student in Vietnam,Minh Minh describes himself as an “ambitious guy” and a go-getter. Since coming to the United States, he’s been a student at GRCC and GVSU, a manager at Walgreens, and an international businessman. He is now a Quality Supervisor at Praxis Packaging Solutions in Grand Rapids.

The path to his current role at Praxis took some time. Minh started in the Production Control department before applying for an accounting supervisor position. At that point, his work ethic was evident, and it caught the attention of Praxis’ CEO, Rick King. The only barrier inhibiting Minh’s career path? His English language skills.

 Guest Blogger: Carrie Roper, Literacy Coordinator and Kent Companies' Instructor

Three days a week, Baldo gets up before dawn to attend an English class at 5 AM before his work shift begins. The two-Kent Companieshour class is held for Baldo and 20 of his colleagues at their workplace, Kent Companies

Baldo’s English class is part of the Literacy Center’s Customized Workplace English program that provides customized classes on site at local companies and businesses. The classes are designed around the work that learners encounter at their job, and are offered at times that are convenient for the employees. For Baldo, this means coming to English class before his shift so that he can learn the English he needs communicate with other workers and succeed at his job.

Chad Patton, Director of Customized Workplace English

Banza Mukalay grew up in Congo, the second largest country in Africa. After attending school for 12 years, he graduated Banzaas a mechanic in 1996. Banza got married after high school and a year later, two major things happened: he and his wife became pregnant with a girl, and a war began.

Banza and his wife escaped the war while his wife was pregnant and hid in a neighboring village. Once the war was over and his home town of Kalemie went through a regime change, Banza’s family moved back home. The peace did not last long, and a new war began in 1998. It was at that point that Banza and his mother, wife, child, brothers, and sisters, fled across Lake Tanganyika into Tanzania.

On November 6, 1998 Banza and his family became refugees and were sent to live in the refugee camp. He would live there for 15 years, and three of his four children would be born in the refugee camp. During that time, he worked as a security guard for World Vision, a social worker for the International Rescue Committee (IRC), and was ordained as a pastor by the United Methodist Church. Banza led a church in the refugee camp for two years before finally gaining access to the United States.

Written by Maria Bacerra, a learner in our Adult Tutoring Program, for our Winter 2018 edition of The Reader

My name is Maria. I’m from Mexico and I came to U.S.A. when I was 19 years old. At that time I had only been married for 1 week.

My dream was to have a family. When I came to the U.S.A. it was so hard for me because everything was new; new people, new country, different traditions and everything new. I missed a lot my family and friends. The time was passing and I accustomed through the years.

Alma Bouwens, a learner in the Adult Tutoring Program, wrote this article for the winter 2017 issue of our learner newsletter, The Reader

Now that I know what vacation is, life seems to be a whole lot better. There was a time when I didn’t know whatstrawberry vacation was. My father was Texas born and met my mother on the other side of the Rio Grande in Mexico. So before I was born, my father would bring up immigrants from Texas to pick vegetables and fruit in Michigan. My father married my mother in the United States, so that made her an American citizen. Every year they would travel for miles from state to state working on farms along the way. My father had a semi-truck and could fit all our relatives and friends in the back. When they would tell us stories about their travels, we would laugh and say “you were like Gypsys.”

Rebecca Thak, a learner in the Adult Tutoring Program, wrote the following article for the winter 2017 issue of our learner newsletter, The Reader. 

Hello! My name is Rebecca Thak. I am from South Sudan. I come from a very large family.My mom and dad lived with us. We were very happy. We lived in a small town called Mayiendit with my siblings, my five brothers and four sisters. We walked to school every morning. There was no school bus available. Every day when we came back from school, we read our books and did our homework before sunset, because we had no electricity, we had only lanterns. In 2003, I got married and moved to Kenya, I went to school to improve my English. From there, I found new friends and learned Swahili. I was very excited to learn a different language.

Guest Blogger: Doroty Delli Ficorelli

I’m a mother of two boys and a wife. I moved here from Italy two years ago with my amazing family, my husband Massimo, my two sons, Diego and Marco and my dog Lilly. Doroty copy

I still remember when my husband asked me to move to the US, I had my new house my friends and my job …. I worked two years for Coca Cola Company in Modena and 11 Years for F.R A., a manufacturing company. In both of these companies, I worked in administration. And this company became my second family during the time and for that reason it was a hard decision to leave my job.

Living in the US is a good opportunity for my sons. They are learning a new language and living in a different culture.

At the beginning it was not easy for me, because I didn’t know anybody and my English was really bad.

Guest Blogger: Yuwiska Alcantara-Tagliati

I moved to the US from the Dominican Republic in 2010. At the time I didn’t speak, nor read English; furthermore, itYuwiska was very difficult the first 3 years to understand not only the language, but the system, such as school, transportation, the changes on the weather, doctor appointments, etc.

One day when searching for my English literacy, I went to the public library and they told me about the services that the Literacy Center of West Michigan offer to people who doesn’t speak English. At first I was reticent to believe that the services has no cost. And my surprise was even bigger when I started to receive the service and encounter that this services has an excellent quality.

Alfonso GuerraIn our March 2015 e-newsletter, we introduced you to Alfonso Guerra, a native of Nicaragua, who came to the United States for better medical care, and took classes from the Literacy Center to improve his English. 

At that time he wrote: "English classes have already impacted me communicatively and comprehending better with my clients and the community. I am feeling more confident. My present and main goals now are to dominate English language, to socialize with the North American community, and looking for more customers. Finally I am happy living in U.S.A."

It was in those classes that Alfonso met Carolina Cnol, a Literacy Center learner who was an attorney and a congresswoman in her native Honduras. The two have dated for the last two years. But their story is bittersweet.

On September 8, Alfonso said goodbye to Carolina and flew from Grand Rapids to Nicaragua. Returning "home," helped by the kindness and generosity of friends and strangers, was his final wish as his prostate cancer advanced. Read more about the story, as told by his team at Spectrum Health Hospice.

This post was written by Jamie Lesman, an AmeriCorps Family Literacy Tutor

Chandra came to Grand Rapids with her family in 2012 as a refugee. She was born in Bhutan and had lived in Nepal for many years chandra copybefore coming to West Michigan. I first met Chandra at a South Godwin Head Start open house and we began our language literacy journey together in September.

During our tutoring session, we talk, listen and exchange ideas about each other’s lives, which has a strong impact on both of us. We share motherhood together, experiences of living in other countries, and the ideas of empowering our daughters by showing them what it takes to be a strong and independent woman through literacy. Chandra also volunteers at a local international church to help fellow refugee women as a Nepali interpreter.

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