Literacy Collaborative Community Summit: What Happened? What Comes Next?

On February 23rd, over 100 community members joined together to focus their collective wisdom, creative problem-solving skills, and resources to tackle the literacy crisis that exists in Muskegon County.  Here’s a brief recap of the event and an opportunity to get involved.


Melissa Moore, Read Muskegon’s Executive Director, started by sharing some statistics to create a vision of the literacy landscape in Muskegon County. “Illiteracy is one of the most complex, interconnected, and deeply-rooted issues we face as a nation, ” Moore said. “It’s an issue of social justice, because those who cannot read cannot equally participate in our society.” She challenged attendees to be “disrupters” in the generational cycle of illiteracy.

Sharon Darling, founder and CEO of the National Center for Families Learning (NCFL), applauded Muskegon County for their collaborative efforts to tackle illiteracy and said she would like to see it become a model for the nation. She called literacy the stem of the flower whose petals are issues like welfare, health care, and criminal justice reform that rely on the strong base of literacy to keep blooming. She noted that while our country’s literacy statistics have been going backwards, we know what to do and the time is now to start doing it.

 

Poppy Sias-Hernandez, Equity & Inclusion Officer for Governor Whitmer, remarked that equity is the outcome of diversity and inclusion and that we need to continue our efforts to create equitable education and other systems that support everyone. She said that equity happens through collective efforts, when people bring their grit, talent and resources to the creation of solutions.

 

 

Rosa Guzman-Snyder, Director of Community Development for NCFL, presented a timeline of the work that has been done by the literacy collaborative and the vision for moving forward.  She set the stage for attendees to participate in breakout room conversations focused on 3 areas as they relate to tackling illiteracy: Economic Opportunity & Workforce Development: coordination of adult learning opportunities leading to family-sustaining wages, Education: mobilizing as a community to support our schools and ensure families have what they need to help their children succeed, and Neighborhoods & Community Leadership: utilizing existing networks to bridge the gap between needs and services. Input from the breakout sessions will be used by the collaborative work groups to create short and long-term action plans.

 

Breakout Session Summaries
You can read summaries of each of the sessions and the “BIG IDEAS” that started to emerge by clicking the links below.

Education Summary

Economic Opportunity Summary

Neighborhoods & Community Leadership Summary

 

Are YOU ready to be part of the SOLUTION? 

It’s going to take all of us working together to create real, sustainable change. Click the link below to sign up for a Read Muskegon Literacy Collaborative work group or to share a “Big Idea”.

 

CLICK HERE TO GET INVOLVED

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 www.readmuskegon.org/donate 

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.

Reading is Power: Join our 2020 Fall Event

You can make a difference — and have fun!

The impact of COVID-19 continues to result in adults struggling to find employment and students working to transition to virtual learning. As a result, the requests for our services has continued to grow.

More than ever, our community members are reaching out for help to improve their own literacy skills. As many adults juggle being both parent and teacher, they recognize that in order to help their own kids with school, they need help themselves.

We hope you’ll join us this fall for #ReadingIsPower, a virtual fundraiser to support literacy programs in Muskegon County.

With your support, we can unlock the unique potential in each of our learners and build stronger, healthier families, workplaces, and communities.

The Read Muskegon Impact

Join the Event

Looking for some fall fun, while making a difference? Download our interactive activities below, and get reading! You’ll have a chance to win prizes to local businesses, too. Check out our event instructions for more information.

  • Bingo – dive into fall reading!
  • Crossword – test your Read Muskegon knowledge! Hint: use the video above to find your answers.

Our Statement on Systemic Racism

 

 

The recent killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and so many others have shocked and outraged people around the world. Sadly, these are just three names among thousands. At Read Muskegon, our board and staff stand united in condemning the systemic racism that allowed these killings to occur and that has silenced the voices of so many.

Literacy has long been used as a method of social control and oppression. Anti-literacy laws were put in place in the early 1800’s specifically making it illegal to teach slaves to read. Why were they so concerned about slaves learning to read? Because with this skill, slaves could access information through newspapers and books. They could understand their rights and organize against oppression. Slave owners wanted to keep their slaves uneducated because they understood that literacy represents power. Today, the lingering impact of these laws still surges through our black communities as they struggle disproportionately with illiteracy.

At Read Muskegon, our commitment is to ensure that every single person in Muskegon County has the opportunity to learn to read to the very best of their ability. That commitment has never stopped. But, in light of where we find our country today, it is more important than ever that we work side by side with our community partners to make sure that literacy is never a barrier but rather a powerful means to an impactful life. We will continue to use our platform, our knowledge, and our resources to be part of the solution to addressing systemic racism.

We Need Your Voice – March 26th Literacy Collaborative Convening

Read Muskegon Literacy Collaborative Convening

Thursday, March 26th, 9:00 -11:30

Hilt Building, 425 W. Western Ave, Muskegon

 

There is a literacy crisis in Muskegon County
and it is time to take dramatic, focused action to combat it.

 

Over the past 12 months, members of the Read Muskegon Literacy Collaborative have been working in partnership with the National Center for Families Learning (NCFL) to assess the literacy landscape in Muskegon County through interviews, surveys and community focus groups. What did we find?  We’re doing a lot of things right and we’ve got a lot of great programs ready to support our communities.  But, we also found a lot of gaps in service and systemic challenges that are creating barriers to success for our most vulnerable learners, across their life span.

Join us on March 26th – 

  • Official release of findings from NCFL’s research
  • Updates from our first three Action Teams: Steering Committee, Public Awareness & Integrated Continuum of Services
  • Partner Networking & Marketplace: an opportunity to share ideas, form new action teams, and find out how you can be part of the change.

CLICK HERE TO REGISTER

If you are interested in sharing relevant information during the Marketplace or have questions about the collaborative please contact Melissa Moore.  melissa.moore@readmuskegon.org or 231-830-5539

 

Read Muskegon Literacy Collaborative Steering Committee

  • Karen Blackledge – Muskegon Area District Libraries
  • LaTonya Beene – United Way
  • Tammy Britton – Talent 2025
  • Jane Clingman-Scott – Community Advocate
  • Jim Fisher – Second Act
  • Liz Garman – Baker College
  • DJ Hilson – Muskegon County Prosecutor
  • Jill Irwin – White Lake Community Education – Early Childhood
  • Logan Jensen – Mercy Health/CHIR
  • Cynthia Langlois – Muskegon Community College
  • Carl Lewis – Goodwill
  • Amy Moore – Community Foundation for Muskegon County
  • Melissa Moore – Read Muskegon
  • Kathy Rohlman – West MI Works!
  • Michelle Wahlberg – MAISD Literacy Coach
  • Pat Walstra – Region 4 Adult Education
  • Jonathan Wilson – DTE Energy/Read Muskegon Board Chair
  • Holly Windram – Michigan Reading Corps
  • Joe Zappocosta – Hackley Library

New Staff: Welcome Andre & Mike!

We are excited to welcome two new staff members to the Read Muskegon family.

 

Andre Pierce, Program Assistant

Andre brings a variety of skills and experiences to Read Muskegon that will be valuable in helping us to continue to grow our programs and reach those who most need our services.  A graduate of Muskegon Heights High School, Andre previously worked as a Community Health Connector for Hackley Community Care where he was responsible for connecting inmates in the Muskegon County Jail with critical resources that they would need upon release such as health care, insurance and housing.  At Read Muskegon, Andre will help us reach deeper into our local communities to recruit, train and support both learners and volunteers.  He will also help to coordinate our Family Literacy programs and the Project Fatherhood Book Club.

 

Mike Wyant, Adult Literacy Instructor

Mike brings years of classroom experience and a passion for teaching non-traditional learners to his new role at Read Muskegon.  He interjects his teaching with personal experiences like his love for history and his adventures at NASA’s Space Camp.  Mike teaches our Job Skills and English as a Second Language classes at Read Muskegon.  You’ll also find him out in the community teaching our workforce development & functional literacy classes at the EXIT program, Muskegon County Jail, and West MI Works.  On Tuesday evenings, he oversees our Drop-In Tutoring program for K-12 students and their parents.

Read Muskegon Launches Countywide Literacy Collaborative

 

Muskegon County is clearly on the move, but over 20,000 adults in our community are at a virtual standstill because they cannot read well enough to fill out a job or housing application, read safety information in the workplace, follow healthcare instructions, or read to their children and grandchildren. The literacy statistics are even more staggering for our children.  Less than 50% of our 5-year-olds enter kindergarten ready to learn and more than 60% of our incoming 4th graders are not reading at grade level.

 

There is a literacy crisis in Muskegon County and it is time to take dramatic, focused action to combat it.

 

We know that no single education system, government agency or non-profit organization can independently resolve this issue.  That’s why Read Muskegon is leading a countywide effort to develop a results-oriented literacy collaborative dedicated to combating the illiteracy crisis through collective impact. Together, Read Muskegon and its extensive network of collaborative partners are focused on ensuring that all individuals in need of improved literacy skills, no matter their age, have access to the information and resources they need to succeed.

 

The collaborative includes a broad spectrum of community partners including: the Muskegon Area Intermediate School District, Community Foundation for Muskegon County, MI Reading Corps, Mercy Health – Community Health Project, Muskegon County Prosecutor’s Office, Muskegon Community College, Baker College, Goodwill, United Way, Talent 2025, Chamber of Commerce, Region 4 Adult Education, West MI Works, White Lake Community Education, Muskegon Area District Libraries, Hackely Public Library, Urban League, and city & state government officials.  Equally as important, we are actively engaging resident voices as members and leaders of the collaborative.

 

Over the past 12 months, collaborative members have been working in partnership with the National Center for Families Learning to assess the literacy landscape in Muskegon County through interviews, surveys and community focus groups. What did we find?  We’re doing a lot of things right and we’ve got a lot of great programs ready to support our communities.  But, we also found a lot of gaps in service and systemic challenges that are creating barriers to success for our most vulnerable learners, across their life span.

 

 

85 individuals gathered last September to review the findings and prioritize next steps.  As a result, three initial action teams were formed. The Collaborative Steering Committee has been focused on creating the mission, vision and structure for the group. The Public Awareness team will work on creating a campaign to increase the general public understanding of illiteracy and connect community members to services. The Integrated Continuum of Services team is working to ensure a seamless transition from birth through adult literacy supports with a focus on family literacy and breaking generational cycles.

 

The next meeting of the collaborative will take place on Thursday, March 26th, from 9:30-12:00. If you are interested in more information, please contact Melissa Moore. 231-830-5539 or Melissa.moore@readmuskegon.org.

 

 

Project Fatherhood Book Club

 

 

“Just because it’s easier to build strong children than repair broken men, doesn’t mean we leave men broken.”  – Jason Wilson, Cry Like A Man

 

Literacy is about more than the ability to read words. It’s about using the power of those words to change the course of your life: to participate in your community, to achieve your goals, to create a better future for your children. That is the foundation of the Project Fatherhood Book Club, a weekly gathering of fathers hosted by Read Muskegon that engages men in reading books that provoke intense and often difficult conversations with a goal of changing life outcomes for the participants, their children and their larger community.

In 2010, former gang member turned community activist Big Mike Cummings asked UCLA gang expert Jorja Leap to co-lead a group of men struggling to be better fathers in Watts, South LA, a neighborhood long burdened with a legacy of racialized poverty, violence, and incarceration. These men came together each week to help one another answer the question ‘How can I be a good father when I’ve never had one?’ The book Project Fatherhood follows the lives of the men as they struggle with the pain of their own losses, the pressures of poverty and unemployment, and the desire to do better for the next generation. Recognizing similar struggles exist for men here in Muskegon County, the book became the inspiration for Read Muskegon’s Project Fatherhood Book Club.

 

          

 

 

The Project Fatherhood Book Club began in 2019 with a Diversity, Equity & Inclusion grant from the Anton Family Fund of the Community Foundation for Muskegon County. They funded the first 8-week session. As the group grew, the dads let us know that the book club needed to continue. Read Muskegon, along with our partner, Dads on Deck, has committed to making that happen.  Our focus is to empower participants to break the generational cycles of illiteracy, incarceration and poverty.

The Project Fatherhood Book Club meets in 8-week sessions with each session focused on a book selected by the participants.  Shared reading aloud from the book, discussion, and journaling are be incorporated into each session with a focus on using written text as the catalyst for processing difficult issues, expressing thoughts and feelings in a constructive manner, and setting personal goals. Read Muskegon’s instructor facilitates the process of shared reading in a way that is sensitive to all reading levels. Each week also incorporates a guest speaker or shared information that focuses on one of the social determinants of health such as: the importance of physical & mental health, cooperative parenting, father activity/fun time, financial literacy & stability, advocacy and engagement in children’s education. Participants who would like to receive extra reading support can meet one on one with a Read Muskegon tutor or staff member.

We need the financial support of our community to make this happen. Our goal is to raise $10,000 to support the book club through 2020. Funds will cover books, food, facilitators, materials, and family & community events developed by the dads. Please consider supporting this group of fathers who are working hard to change the outcomes for the next generation.

Click Here to Donate