News & Blog: Learner Stories

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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 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. However, Hnin has a genuine interest and strong motivation to improve her English so that she can find a job after her children are all at school. Everything considered, when we had our first tutoring meeting three months ago, Zoom seemed to be an obvious choice for our sessions. 

Our first couple of meetings went just fine. Hnin used her smartphone to get on Zoom, and I managed to find ESL resources for beginners. When Hnin received her Chromebook loan from the Literacy Center, her Literacy Coordinator and I worked to get her on online and on Zoom. I had already started to contemplate the wonderful things I could do with her during our virtual sessions: she can hold her baby and learn, I can give her remote control, and she can start navigating online resources better. 

However, Hnin was not on her Chromebook for our arranged meeting in the following week. She simply told me, “This month, and next month, no internet, no money.” I reached out to Ace Marasigan, the founder of Asian Pacific Foundation, hoping to find out potential resources to support Hnin’s internet need. Ace responded right away with an amazing offer. He and his 7-year-old son were willing to personally donate the 3 months of internet cost to help Hnin finish her school.  Although in the end we didn’t need to take him up on his offer, words couldn’t describe my respect and appreciation for Ace and his son. 

Instead, we were able to find a hotspot loan program through the Grand Rapids Public Library. Hnin received her hotspot device quickly and learned how to set it up at her house. With the help of John Bosma, the community manager of GRPL, we were even able to navigate the device renewal process. In fact, John met me at Hnin’s home to drop off the recently renewed device. Through John’s help, this GRPL device will stay at Hnin’s house for 6 months!  

Hnin has been using her Chromebook for our meeting sessions ever since. She had completed several Burlington English student lessons all by herself. By the time the device needs to go back to the library, she will have 60+ hours of instruction. While her journey to improve her English has just started, the people and the communities that helped her to arrive at the starting point are and will continue accompany her on the journey. They help remind us of an era where digital literacy and humanity are needed more than ever. 

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.

By Learner Rosalinda Cardenas

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.

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.

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