Fall Reception

2021 Fall Reception

On Thursday, October 28th, we will host our annual event to honor our volunteers, learners, and partners. This virtual celebration features some very special recognitions including:
Read on to learn more about these incredible individuals and their dedication to adult literacy. To be a part of the celebration, register by emailing kjumanne-marshall@kalamazooliteracy.org. 

Volunteer service award

Andrea VanDyke

Andrea started with the Kalamazoo Literacy Council in September of 2017 as a Health Literacy intern. In that role, she taught SNAP-Ed nutrition classes and was a co-presenter at the annual Adult Literacy Research & Training Symposium with students from WMU’s Homer J. Stryker M.D. School of Medicine. In 2018, she transitioned to being a part-time Health Literacy Navigator and again was a featured speaker at the Symposium along with KLC fellow Dr. Doris Ravotas. After accepting a full-time position at Ascension Borgess in 2019, Andrea continued her volunteer work by acting as an “intern mentor,” assisting new Health Literacy interns get familiar with the organization, our services, and adult learner population. In May of 2021, she took over the Read and Seed Health & Parent Literacy project and has been designing curriculum and teaching weekly classes. Andrea has been an amazing volunteer and leader in the Health Literacy program. She continues to put the KLC at the top of her priority list and always appreciates the opportunity to speak to someone about the agency. As we like to say, Andrea bleeds KLC green!

Daniel Smith

Daniel began his volunteer service teaching English at El Concilio, and has been a Level 3 volunteer teacher with the KLC’s ESL of SWMI program for about five years. He was attracted to the opportunity because of his love of language and a desire to give back. Daniel says he understands how difficult it is to speak a foreign language as an adult because of his own struggles trying to learn Spanish. He notes that not only can learning the language be a challenge, but so can trying to understand a new culture, and navigating things like shopping, schools, and work environments. He views volunteering as a small way he can contribute to making our country more welcoming to all. Daniel views teaching ESL as a joy because of the earnest determination of the students; it’s wonderful to see them improve. According to him, an ESL teacher doesn’t need to travel the world, because every class is like a mini United Nations! Daniel is a retired IT specialist from WMU, an avid cyclist, and loves playing the banjo, especially for our student get-togethers.

Mard Little award for adult learner excellence

Damian Penny

Nominated by Kym Hollars

Damian Penny was referred to the Kalamazoo Literacy Council through Drug Court and was in the ExpressWays 2 Success program where he was active in PLATO and Learning Upgrade. He transitioned to the GED program at Goodwill Industries of Southwestern Michigan and continued his studies while working two jobs. From December 2020 to March 2021, he was able to pass all four of the GED tests and was one of the first at Goodwill to earn his GED through online proctoring. We are proud of Damian’s achievements and celebrate him as the 2021 recipient of the Mard Little Award for Adult Learner Excellence! 


Elvis Vetene

Nominated by Jackie Denoyer

Elvis Vetene is a Level 3 learner from the Congo. He is married and has several children including one with special needs. Some of his kids are still in his home country waiting to join the family in the U.S. Elvis is a highly motivated learner and has participated in virtual learning with us to strengthen his English and to help his children with online school during the pandemic. He has made significant improvements in the CASAS assessment for reading and listening. Elvis previously worked third shift in a factory where he and his wife took alternating shifts in order to manage childcare, English classes, and family responsibilities. Now, due to his improved English skills, he has a new job at Pfizer and plans to apply for U.S. citizenship.


Mayerling Herrera

Nominated by Vicki Konzen

Mayerling Herrera moved from her native country of Venezuela to Portage, MI, in August of 2016. Immediately, Mayerling looked for a place to learn English, and she found the KLC’s ESL of Southwest Michigan program in Prince of Peace Lutheran Church. Mayerling has been a dedicated student, coming to class as much as possible. She is always positive and friendly with her teacher and fellow classmates, and her homework is completed. Mayerling tries to help others in the class when she can, and enjoys practicing English with her classmates.  Now, after four years of studying English, Mayerling feels that she understands English so much more, and she can speak quite a bit now.  “It’s like discovering something new every day,” she said.  Mayerling’s reading score on CASAS tests have improved at least three educational levels. 

Mayerling now has her driver’s license, and she has the confidence to shop and even travel alone, and has become more involved in the community. Mayerling hopes to be able to volunteer in an organization soon to “be useful” to her new country. Mayerling has encouraged other immigrants whom she meets to register and attend the KLC’s ESL classes because, as she said, the classes are helping her “integrate into this beautiful country.” Speaking in her own English words, Mayerling appreciates that she is learning English not only through grammar, but also through the content of life skills and American culture. Mayerling expressed her admiration for the dedication and caring that the ESL teachers and volunteers demonstrate to their students, and she is thankful for the opportunity to study English with the KLC’s ESL of SWMI program. 


Brigitte Kokote

Nominated by K. Dylan Warner

Brigitte Kokote arrived in the U.S. mid July 2021 and started studying with ESL of SWMI in August. She is newly married and has a young son. Brigitte is a bright, diligent, and steadfast student. Within three months, she has quickly reached a high level of conversational English. Brigitte took the initiative to reach out to her tutor to acquire the prior lessons she had missed, studied the material, and continued to ask thoughtful questions. She is one of the most active and inquisitive students in her class. Brigitte has a good ear for language and is not afraid of voicing her opinions. Since attending classes, she has become a sort of leader for the French speaking students, assisting them with their comprehension and pronunciation. Although she has a B.A. in finance and business management, Brigitte plans to use KLC classes to help her attain her goal of becoming a nurse. As she progresses through her learning journey and becomes accustomed to life in the U.S, her teacher is confident that her diligence and bright disposition will be great tools to help her along the way.

who is mard little?

Mard Little was a KLC learner who overcame incredible obstacles in her literacy journey. She came to us at age 67 with a third grade education. Through her dedication and working with her tutor, Judy Kepler, Mard excelled. She advanced six reading levels and gained the confidence to complete her life’s goal of writing her memoir. Read her full biography here. 

This award recognizes a learner who has persisted through adverse circumstances in their literacy journey. Their educational and personal gains demonstrate strength and motivation, and inspire others to keep striving for their goals.

Photo Gallery

Check out some fun photos of the Fall Reception from past years!