Fall Reception

2022 Fall Reception

In October, the KLC hosted our annual event to honor our volunteers, learners, and partners. This virtual celebration featured some very special recognitions including:
Read below to learn more about these incredible individuals and their dedication to adult literacy and lifelong learning.  

Volunteer service award

Sharon Williams

Sharon Williams moved to Kalamazoo in 1982 with her husband, who became the Chair of the WMU Theatre Department, and their one-year-old son. Over the years, Sharon has had a number of jobs: teaching Business Communication at WMU, appearing in commercials and industrial videos, narrating audiobooks, acting in local theaters, serving as Volunteer Coordinator at the Kalamazoo Institute of Arts for nine years, and currently acting as a Standardized Patient for the WMU Medical School.
Sharon became a Kalamazoo Literacy Council volunteer in 2010 and has since served as an individual tutor, a Friendly Connector (one of the originals!), and as one of the instructors for the writing class. She values the friendships she has with the other tutors and staff and the relationships she has with the learners. Sharon feels that she has learned as much from her students as they have learned from her! Words that describe her feelings for her experience at KLC are “satisfaction and “joy.”  Sharon is a skilled educator, excellent communicator, and patient learner advocate. We are so grateful for her years of outstanding service to the KLC.

Mard Little award for adult learner excellence

Roberto Carlos Rios Arevalos

Nominated by Vicki Konzen
Roberto Carlos Rios Arevalos is the 2022 recipient of the Mard Little Award for Adult Learner Excellence. He is from Paraguay, South America. His first language is Guarani, and his second language is Spanish. Roberto grew up on a farm near a small village in Paraguay. He was only able to attend school for a few years before he began to work on the farm to help his family. Roberto met his American wife, Holly, when she came to Paraguay.  After they were married, Roberto came with Holly to Lawton, Michigan. They have 2 children.  Roberto worked at Honee Bear Canning factory in Lawton for several years, but when the schools began teaching elementary classes online only because of the pandemic, Roberto decided to stay at home and care for their children while Holly worked. When Roberto discovered our ESL classes in Portage, he drove in from Lawton to attend the in-person morning classes, always arriving early and ready to learn.
Roberto is courteous, respectful, and friendly to everyone.  He cheerfully offers to help in any way he can.  Roberto enjoyed sharing conversation with his classmates, in the room and online, and even kept an activity going at times when the teacher was called out of the classroom for a few minutes. Roberto has a wonderful quiet sense of humor. He made gentle funny comments which helped all of us feel relaxed as we studied English together. Roberto’s positive attitude helped to create a welcoming and warm connection with others in the class.
Roberto rarely missed coming to ESL class. He studied very diligently throughout the school year, always doing his homework and participating enthusiastically in class. Because of Roberto’s consistent attendance and hard work, he has improved both his reading and listening scores on the English assessment tests.
One of Roberto’s goals was to find a new full time job, which he has achieved! 


Gülsüm Kocak Sönmez

Nominated by Vicki Konzen
Gülsüm Kocak Sönmez, her husband, Sinan Sönmez, and their nine-year-old twin daughters came to Kalamazoo from Turkey about 14 months ago. Sinan, a professor at a university in Turkey, has been doing research at Western Michigan University. 

Gülsüm was an elementary school teacher in Istanbul, Turkey, for 20 years. Gülsüm is also a published author of her original children’s storybooks in the Turkish language. She is an accomplished musician in playing the Turkish folk guitar called the baglama saz. 

Last June, at our end of the term party at Prince of Peace, Gülsüm sang and played a beautiful and famous Turkish song for her teachers and classmates’ pleasure.   

Gülsüm joined the KLC’s ESL program a little over a year ago.  Gülsüm could only attend our in-person classes a few times because of a lack of transportation, but she consistently attended our classes online with much interest and engagement. Gülsüm  has a friendly smile for everyone, enjoys practicing English with others, and is enthusiastic about learning more English.  She even translated one of her original children’s stories into English. Because of Gülsüm ‘s dedication and determination to improve her English, she advanced from the high beginning (Level 2) class to the intermediate (Level 3) class last spring, and is continuing to attend the online Level 3 classes.  Gülsüm says that she borrows children’s books from libraries to improve her English, and that she reads them constantly. 

Gülsüm wrote: “When I first came here, I had some knowledge of grammar, but I couldn’t understand anything from the conversations. I can understand now and I am very happy for that. I would like to thank the ESL employees for creating this chance for us. They are doing a very important job.”

Gülsüm ‘s goals are to continue writing children’s books in Turkish, to write and publish children’s stories in English, and to give more children a love of reading. We will miss Gülsüm  when she returns to Turkey next August, but we are glad she came to Kalamazoo and joined our ESL classes. We wish Gulsum and her family the best of luck in their future!


Malathi Jabisetty

Nominated by Vicki Konzen
Malathi Jabisetty is from Hyderabad, India, where she earned a master’s degree in computer science. Malathi’s husband immigrated to Portage for a new job in 2018, and soon after, Malathi and her two sons joined him here. Malathi’s first language is Telugu; she is also fluent in Hindi and is now learning English. 

Once Malathi discovered the KLC’s ESL program, she was excited to study English in our morning online program, since, at that time, she had a young pre-school age son at home.  Malathi’s attendance was very consistent in our Level 2, high beginner, class. She was usually the first learner to join online in the morning, ready and eager to learn. Malathi always did her homework, practiced conversations cheerfully with her classmates, and often stimulated our lessons with questions. Malathi was very good about letting the teacher know if she had to come late, leave early, or had to miss the class. Malathi’s English proficiency improved so much that she moved up to the Level 3, intermediate, class last spring.

Malathi loves taking care of her family, but since her English has improved, she is more confident about seeking employment. Malathi’s main goal for the future is to find a good job in computer software.  

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!