Nonprofit expands adult literacy program with grant

505

The Literacy Center of West Michigan (LCWM) will expand adult literacy programming for English-speaking residents focused on personal goals and job readiness.

The Grand Rapids nonprofit received a $50,000 grant from the Fifth Third Bank Foundation Strengthening Our Communities Fund to support the Adult Basic Education (ABE) program for native English-speaking adults who were poorly educated due to ethnic and racial disparities. ABE programming focusing on skill and workforce development will start on Dec. 1, broadening ABE classes with community partners and supporting individuals in all LCWM programs, including one-on-one adult tutoring, family literacy and customized workplace English.

New ABE classes will be hosted in partnership with Kent County schools, churches, workplaces and community organizations, including Urban League of West Michigan, Baxter Community Center and Heartside Ministry.

Prior to the grant funding, LCWM hosted a 15-week ABE class twice per year and provided ABE to some learners through its adult tutoring program.

According to the Michigan Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity, ABE provides instruction for reading, language, writing and math skills below the ninth-grade level for adults with or without high school credentials.

“Tragically, generations of inequitable education opportunities and systemic racism have unjustly left many of our community members behind,” said Wendy Falb, executive director of LCWM. “Expanding the opportunities for African American adults to improve their reading and writing skills is essential for creating racial equity in our region.”

Melinda Wilson. Courtesy Literacy Center of West Michigan

Grant funding also will be used to hire Melinda Wilson as part-time ABE coordinator to redesign and expand recruitment and retention strategies, develop curriculum and create programming that meets the learner-identified needs across LCWM’s programming. Wilson has taught LCWM’s ABE class within its Customized Workplace English Program for the past eight months and brings 12 years of experience teaching at public schools in Grand Rapids, Detroit and Ypsilanti.

Research done by the organization showed income gains of 53% for English language learners and 35% more likelihood to obtain a high school degree or equivalent, compared to nonparticipants.

“The relevance of this work is significant, not only to the learners, but to this entire region,” Falb said. “ABE learners can improve their earning power, engage more deeply in the community and support the health and educational needs of their families.”

One LCWM ABE learner wrote, “I was tired of starting stuff and not finishing it. My daughter knows how many times I got frustrated and quit, but we fight this thing together. I want to do this for my grandkids.”

LCWM serves nearly 800 English language learners annually, 10% representing native English speakers. The organization said 77% of African American adults read below the sixth-grade level, according to national data.

“Strengthening our communities is one of the pillars at Fifth Third Bank, and we believe that the work of the Literacy Center of West Michigan is doing just that,” said Marcus Jackson, vice president and community and economic development manager at Fifth Third Bank. “Literacy is critically important to living, functioning and breaking down barriers in our society. We are proud to support the Literacy Center of West Michigan in helping our community members thrive.”

Facebook Comments