No Reader Left Behind: Serving Muskegon County Jail

When COVID first began causing closures and cancellations of in-person activities, Read Muskegon was committed that no reader be left behind in the transition to virtual learning — including those in the Muskegon County Jail. 

In March, all access to the jail was abruptly discontinued. The challenges were compounded because the jail had no secure system to provide access to virtual learning for the incarcerated men and women. Estimates were that in person teaching would not resume until the Fall of 2021 at the earliest. Read Muskegon remained steadfast — no reader left behind. 

“In 2019, Read Muskegon served about 150 incarcerated men and women,” said Melissa Moore, executive director.

“Because of the strong link between illiteracy and incarceration, this is some of the most important work that we do. By providing functional literacy skills to incarcerated individuals, we’re helping them be better prepared to navigate daily life in a positive way when they re-enter our community.” 

Thanks to the leadership of Mediation & Restorative Services and the willingness of the jail administration to look for solutions, we’re proud to say that by early December we will have fulfilled our promise of no reader left behind. There are currently over 50 individuals on the waitlist for virtual literacy classes, and we’re eager to serve them this winter.

“As a partner in the EXIT program, we’re actively working to install the jail’s first-ever virtual learning equipment, which will allow us to resume twice-weekly classes,” said Moore. “We will be one of the first programs in the state to have this type of virtual access for program delivery.”

By expanding our virtual learning, we’ll help more men and women increase their functional literacy skills. Upon their release from jail, they’ll have the confidence and skills they need to read job postings, fill out job applications, pay bills, lease apartments, manage their finances and access health care. These types of literacy skills are key to preventing recidivism into the criminal justice system.

This holiday season, you can make sure no reader is left behind. Your generosity supports innovation and collaboration that connects more individuals with life-changing literacy skills. You can donate today at 

HEAL Launches at Read Muskegon

Did you know: the single greatest predictor of an individual’s health is their literacy level? Imagine trying to figure out how to manage diabetes, give your child the proper dose of medicine, or stay healthy during COVID, when you, like over 50% of our country, read at an elementary school level.

Read Muskegon is proud to announce our newest program designed to help families across Muskegon County increase their health and literacy skills, together — Health Education & Literacy Program (HEAL). 

HEAL is an award-winning, research-based health literacy program designed by the College of William & Mary. The program utilizes a unique, two-pronged approach: 

  1. Classes for adults with low health literacy, and
  2. Training for local medical staff, raising their awareness of low-health literacy and providing practical tools and strategies for working with these patients. 

Literacy is a stronger predictor of a person’s health than income, employment status, education level, race or ethnicity. People with low health literacy are more likely to skip important preventive measures and to enter the health care system when they’re sicker. They’re more likely to have chronic conditions, and less likely to manage them effectively.  They are significantly more likely to report their health as poor. 

Low health literacy strains the health care system, resulting in preventable hospital visits and admissions, longer stays, higher readmission rates and extra tests, procedures and prescriptions. The estimated health costs of low-literacy in the U.S. are between $106-$236 billion annually. 

When we increase an individual’s literacy skills, we can directly impact their individual health as well.

The Schroeder Center for Health Policy at the College of William & Mary found that HEAL participants gained statistically significant knowledge and confidence in health topics. Not only did they improve their  literacy skills, they also increased their confidence in communicating about health topics. This allowed parents to be stronger advocates for themselves and their children’s needs when working with local doctors.

We are excited to bring this life-changing program to Muskegon County, launching our first classes virtually in December. HEAL will be integrated into our ESL and jail-based programs and our family literacy program at the Muskegon Heights Hope Center. Through a grant from the White Lake Community Fund, we will offer three sessions; serving students at Duck Creek Alternative Education Center, Head Start parents, and those referred by health care providers. Plans for 2021 include providing HEAL at shelters, in partnership with local churches, and at community healthcare facilities.

New Program Brings Hope Amidst COVID Restrictions

Imagine, what it must feel like to be a parent who — on top of struggling to find your family a safe, consistent  place to sleep — now needs to figure out how you will help them access virtual school. Imagine watching your child fall further behind in learning because you have no way to access the internet and feel unprepared to help them catch-up.

Born out of a collaborative effort of local school administrators, business owners and agencies, Read Muskegon is proud to be a founding partner of the Muskegon Heights Hope Center at Mahali. With many area schools switching to virtual learning this year, Rane Garcia, Superintendent of Muskegon Heights Public School Academy, saw an immediate need to support families who were at the greatest risk of being left behind by remote learning: those in transient living situations. 

The Muskegon Heights Hope Center was born out of a need to provide a safe, supportive space for families in shelters or other inconsistent living situations to access to the internet for virtual learning – both K-12 students and adults.

The drop-in center, located in downtown Muskegon Heights, provides families with the ability to participate in virtual school, 1:1 tutoring for both students and adults, family literacy programming, daily meals and connection to social support services. 

By building trust with these families now, Read Muskegon and other local support services are creating relationships that will last beyond virtual learning and COVID — helping these families break the generational cycles of poverty.

This collaborative effort is different from some other programs because the adult is present with the child during remote learning.  This provides an opportunity to support family literacy in a variety of ways, including:

  • Ensuring the child participates in online classes and has hands-on support to fill learning gaps;
  • Supporting the parent/guardian in understanding how to help their child with learning even if their own literacy level isn’t high;
  • Connecting adults to learning opportunities like Read Muskegon tutoring, health and financial literacy, GED classes or jobs training;
  • And providing family programming that gives participants hands-on experience in how to incorporate literacy development into everyday activities. 

 This program was developed in partnership with Muskegon Heights Public School Academy, the Community Foundation for Muskegon County, United Way, Read Muskegon, and the Coalition for Community Development. 

Together, we are serving the most at-risk families — preventing long-term learning loss and increasing access to community services that will help end generational cycles of illiteracy and poverty.