The Rapidian

Literacy Center of West Michigan moves into 2015 with new director

The Literacy Center of West Michigan continues to serve the greater Grand Rapids area through partnerships and collaborative efforts aimed to raise the literacy rate of the region.
Area literacy provider representatives at a literacy forum in Grand Rapids hosted by CLI

Area literacy provider representatives at a literacy forum in Grand Rapids hosted by CLI /Eric Tank

Location and contact

1120 Monroe Avenue NW

Interested volunteers can register here.

Mayor Heartwell spoke briefly at a literacy forum among other leading literacy advocates in Grand Rapids.

Mayor Heartwell spoke briefly at a literacy forum among other leading literacy advocates in Grand Rapids. /Eric Tank

Wendy Falb, Executive Director

Wendy Falb, Executive Director /Eric Tank

The Literacy Center of West Michigan has been fostering the advancement of literacy in and around Grand Rapids for over 25 years. A mostly volunteer supported initiative, the organization has been part of the fabric of West Michigan through its various collaborations and partnerships. 

This past September, Wendy Falb took the helm as the organization's new executive director. Looking into the new year, she has charted a course to continue past successes by implementing fresh ideas and maintaining the course set out in the strategic plan. 

Falb looks at the literacy rates in the region and sees a great potential for improvement. She also sees the myriad of untapped resources in the area that can accomplish that improvement. She says that often people don't realize that low literacy holds a community back. Once it is pointed out, she says, people get it. 

"The Literacy Center is going to play a key role unlocking that potential," says Falb. "Making this region notable because of our high literacy rates and because of the literacy rates, you see the ramifications of that in every sector of our society."

Falb's priority is working to improve visibility of the organization within the community. That involves the reexamination of practices and reinvigoration of those practices. Recruiting and sustaining volunteers who can commit to tutoring is another area that can be strengthened. She's also interested in strengthening nonprofit collaborations such as between Grand Rapids Public Schools and churches and bringing attention to the business world about how literacy can improve the workforce. 

"[We're] eager to continue the support we've had from donors in the past," says Falb. She also stresses that bringing in new people is important.  

The Literacy Center is most known for its adult tutoring program. It involves volunteers meeting once or twice a week with adults. The Family Literacy program is growing and according to Falb is a key piece to children's literacy. Raising the parents' literacy boosts the children's' literacy as well, she says. 

The Literacy Center also facilitates the Community Literacy Initiative (CLI), formerly know as Greater Grand Rapids Reads. The initiative was founded by Mayor George Heartwell and Juan Olivarez, current president of Aquinas College. Now under the direction of Lindsay McHolme and is guided by an advisory council, the initiative has established target residential zones by mapping neighborhoods, catalogued a literacy directory of area-wide providers and conducted community assessment research. The CLI aims to make a collective impact by aligning all literacy providers toward the same goal. 

"This impacts everybody's lives in West Michigan and raising [low literacy rates] will have a positive impact on everybody. I think it's important for people to personalize that in their own lives as well. Even if they don't have a personal relationship to it, they are being impacted by it," says Falb. "We're really eager to get people to consider how valuable the mission is that we have and if they are unable to give of their own time, just spread the word. Think about the ways that the mission impacts their lives."

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