$110,000 grant to help the Literacy Center expand the reach of the ESL program for parents


GRANDS RAPIDS — A $110,000 grant will help expand the Western Michigan Literacy Center‘s Family Literacy Program, which helps equip non-native English speakers whose children attend local schools with literacy and communication skills.

The Wege Foundation The grant will help the program expand to serve more students and parents in the Grand Rapids area.

“The Wege Foundation has long supported our work,” said Wendy Falb, executive director of the Literacy Centre. MiBiz. “Some people don’t necessarily see how essential this is, and we really appreciate how the Wege Foundation sees how beautiful and fundamental this work is.”

Founded by the late local philanthropist and former Chairman of Steelcase Inc. Peter Wege, the foundation focuses on the intersection of the economy and the environment as well as health, education and arts projects in the western Michigan.

The Family Literacy Program currently serves parents of students at Grand Rapids Public Schools, Godfrey Lee Public Schools, Godwin Heights Public Schools, Hope Charter Academy and Head Start for Kent County. The grant will help the program grow by offering classes in Kentwood Public Schools and increasing childcare capacity.

Parents in the family literacy program are an especially hard-to-reach demographic because they often lack formal education and have many demands on their time, Falb said.

“They are unlikely to prioritize their own education,” Falb said.

The program currently employs 15 professional instructors and serves approximately 200 parents each year. Classes are offered during the day and evening to accommodate varying work schedules. In-person classes also offer childcare.

The program provides Chromebooks to parents who do not have access to the technology needed to participate in the class, which is offered both virtually and onsite at schools. The program adapts to individuals, linking literacy skills to parents’ immediate needs in life, such as navigating the medical system or public transportation.

Funding from the grant will help support current staff positions as well as add teaching and childcare capacity. Falb said the Center hopes to develop childcare options that include more specific elements for the development and education of children while their parents are in the classroom.

With increased capacity, the Family Literacy Program plans to expand its reach. The program has generally worked primarily with Spanish speakers, but organization officials also see a need for services among Middle Eastern and African parents, Falb said.

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