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Community Literacy Initiative

For over two decades, the Literacy Center of West Michigan has been dedicated into improving reading skills and helping those learning English as a second language. Their work positively impacts schools, families and the community by expanding opportunities and increasing the quality of life by those they serve. 
Michigan Nightlight: In your view, what makes your program innovative, effective or remarkable? 
Literacy Center of West Michigan President and CEO Susan K. Ledy: Our organization has an amazing staff team. They are themselves innovative, effective and remarkable. I believe our people lead to effectiveness in our organization. Secondly, our desire to succeed. We have the ability and desire to be an organization growing to meet greater community need.
We have the ability and desire to be an organization growing to meet greater community need.
Thirdly, we are flexible and innovative…an organization that searches for and applies cutting edge and best practices to address the issue of low literacy. 
What was the best lesson learned in the past year?
W.K. Kellogg Foundation’s support of the Community Literacy Initiative work we are doing in the Hope Zones is bringing many organizations to the table in each of the Hope Zones. Collaboration is key to success. Working together, we will accomplish so much more. We are working with many organizations already, but there are so many more who can participate in this important work toward a more literate community. We are becoming aware of many more and are inviting them to participate in this work.
What was the hardest lesson learned in the past year?
The hardest lesson learned in the past year would be the changes needed to match the rapid growth that we have experienced over the past year. Scaling the organization to meet learner needs and to match funding is always a challenge. Funding and grants typically cover a certain program or aspect of a program. Based on funding that is received, we need to either contract or expand programming to meet the funding or grant period. Overall, we have grown our programs to reach more learners, which in turn requires more funding to be able to do so.
We are working with many organizations already, but there are so many more who can participate in this important work toward a more literate community.
What really differentiates this program?
The Community Literacy Initiative (CLI) stands out as the only literacy coalition that focuses on improving literacy for all ages in West Michigan. The coalition engages Literacy Champions Mayor Heartwell and Bing Goei to speak on behalf of the cause as well as an Advisory Council of leaders to inform and support the work of the coalition.
CLI is gathering literacy data for all ages and will report the data to the community. It is also developing an online literacy providers' directory, which will streamline referrals and make it easier for community members to find literacy services near them. CLI is hosting a Community Literacy Summit in September, sharing successful literacy practices and celebrating the literacy work that is being done in the Central and West Hope Zones. Neighborhood Literacy Forums are held on a bi-monthly basis as well. All of the work will inform a conversation around developing a common measurement system. 
What are the keys to success for your program?
There are four keys to success for the Community Literacy Initiative: evaluation, monitoring and measuring results and progress; providing resources and building capacity; advocacy for literacy; and collaborations and partnerships.
How do you innovate programming? Where do the ideas come from? How do you know if they are going to work?
One way that we innovate programming is through our commitment to staff training in a variety of teaching methods and processes. We keep up-to-date by accessing conferences and seminars. Our staff members are very creative and bring ideas to the table. Ideas may also originate through areas we serve, such as our Community Literacy Initiative. We do not like having to turn any person away from our door, so if we see a need being brought to us that fits our mission, we discuss it and figure out how to best approach it, working with other community partners when it makes sense. With new ideas, we are okay with having a trial period or testing a new class out on ourselves and using surveys for feedback until we get it right. In other industries, this might be compared to a “scale model” and “product testing” cycle of innovation. We also have internal brainstorming sessions and program evaluations.

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