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Published in Nonprofits
Participants in the Literacy Center of West Michigan’s Family Literacy Program. Participants in the Literacy Center of West Michigan’s Family Literacy Program. PHOTO COURTESY OF JEFF HAGE

$110K grant to help Literacy Center expand reach of ESL program for parents

BY Monday, July 11, 2022 03:21pm

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

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

“The Wege Foundation has been a long supporter of our work,” Literacy Center Executive Director Wendy Falb told MiBiz. “Some people don’t necessarily see how essential this is, and we really appreciate how much the Wege Foundation sees how beautiful this work is and how foundational it is.”

Founded by the late local philanthropist and former Steelcase Inc. Chairperson Peter Wege, the foundation focuses on the intersection of economics and the environment as well as health, education and arts projects in West 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 expand by offering courses in Kentwood Public Schools and to increase child care capacity.

Parents in the Family Literacy Program are a particularly hard-to-reach demographic because they often lack formal education and have numerous demands on their time, Falb said. 

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

The program currently employs 15 professional instructors and serves about 200 parents annually. The classes are offered both during the day and in the evenings to accommodate diverse work schedules. In-person classes also offer child care. 

The program provides Chromebooks to parents who lack access to the technology necessary to participate in the class, which is offered both virtually and onsite at schools. The program adapts to individuals, connecting literacy skills to immediate needs in the lives of parents, such as navigating the medical system or public transportation.

Grant funding will help support current staff positions as well as add instructional and child care capacity. Falb said the Center hopes to develop child care options that include more specific elements for development and education for children while their parents are in class.

With expanded capacity, the Family Literacy Program plans to add range to its reach. The program has typically worked primarily with Spanish speakers, but organization officials also see a need for services among parents from the Middle East and Africa, Falb said.

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