Grant will help bring literacy training into the workplace

Adult literacy is a nationwide issue, with 54% of adults between the ages of 17 and 74 reading below a sixth-grade level. The areas that experience the lowest literacy levels are often those that experience poor health and poverty as well.

Here in Kent County the Literacy Center of West Michigan is working to eliminate barriers to achieving literacy. Recently, the center was awarded a MI Impact Grant of $1.12 million dollars from the Michigan Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity (LEO) to further their work.

Rapid Growth Media was able to connect with Wendy Falb, executive director of the Literacy Center and discuss what this new grant will mean for the citizens of West Michigan.

Rapid Growth Media: Tell us about Literacy Center and the work you do.
Wendy Falb, executive director of the Literacy Center of West Michigan
Wendy Falb: We focus on adult literacy, and we have a robust citizenship and workforce development program. Our philosophy is to meet adults where they're at in their lives. Many are busy caring for children or trying to make money, and therefore find it very difficult to prioritize their own education. Knowing this we really tried to design our programming to accommodate them. We offer programs at their jobs and make the content about their work, or we do it at their child's school and make the content about supporting their child at school. We offer programming where adults receive health care and tailor the content to how to communicate with a to your doctor. 

With help from a MI Impact Grant, the Literacy Center of West Michigan is integrating adult literacy education into daily activities such as employment.
The Literacy Center of West Michigan offers programs at participants' children's schools and make the content about supporting their children at school.

RGM: Why is this work important in Kent County?

WF: Last year we instructed over 1,100 adults and this coming year we believe we’ll instruct somewhere between 1,300 and 1,500. This is important because there's such a significant unmet need in our community. In Kent County alone, 85,000 people read below fourth grade. We serve both native speakers of English, to improve reading and writing skills, and non-native speakers through's a whole range within ESL. We have people who have PhDs and speak three other languages, and we have people who have never had a formal education.

RGM: What does this Impact Grant mean for the work you do?
The Literacy Center of West Michigan partners with organizations or institutions that focus on work development, then come alongside and teach the English needed to do that coursework.
WF: This grant is so important for us. There's an approach called integrated education and training that we’ve been focusing on and leading in the state with that work. We partner with organizations or institutions that focus on work development like Grand Rapids Community College or the Goodwill. They then facilitate the workforce development training whether it's certified nurse assistant or machine CNC or medical coding, and we come alongside and teach the English needed to do that coursework. This grant is allowing us to expand and start working with current employees instead of only incumbent workers. We’ve been able to serve people that are already working full time in entry level positions at Cornwell Health. Instead of having to do this outside of their work time they're able to do this during their work time and get paid getting full time salary and benefits while half of that time is dedicated to training. All of this is happening without having to leave their job or get additional childcare, so it's really removing every barrier.

RGM: Why are grants like this important?

WF: The vast majority of the funds of this grant is going towards paying these employees for their time in class and removing the need to have to do this outside work time. This grant is really important because this is a potential proof of concept. If we are successful in upscaling these employees at Corewell to fill these mid-level healthcare positions it may be the first step in demonstrating to other employers that this level of investment is worth it. This level of investment is going to result in a strong talent pipeline and strong retention of employees. This grant is important because it's doing things differently by putting a lot of money into a concept that isn't proven yet, but we're confident that it will be.

RGM: What else do you want people to know about the Literacy Center?

WF: One of our ongoing programs is still our original program where we have volunteer tutors, we call literacy coaches, paired up with a person in need. We have about 130 tutor learner pairs right now, but we also have a waiting list of about 60 or 70 people. If anybody reading this is inspired, we would love to have them come by and we will give them all the support they need to do that coaching. It's truly a life changing experience.

Literacy Matters is a series focused on the importance of knowledge, community resources seeking to remove barriers to access, and the value of our library systems to society. Literacy Matters is supported by Kent District Library. 
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