Fall Reception

Fall Reception

Each year we look forward to celebrating our amazing volunteer tutors, instructors, and adult learners at the Fall Reception. This event gives us an opportunity to spotlight individuals who have gone above and beyond in service, and honor learners who have demonstrated excellence in their literacy journey. 

Please see below to learn more about the 2023 honorees, and stay tuned for information on this year’s event scheduled for Thursday, October 24, 2024. 

Volunteer service award

Teresa Forton

Teresa Forton has worked as the English Learner Coordinator for Portage Public Schools for the past 9 years. In this role, she supports the Young 5 through 12th grade students who are learning English as a second (or third) language, as well as their families, teachers, and other school staff members. She has a bachelor’s degree in Spanish from Michigan State University and a masters in Education with a TESOL emphasis from Grand Valley State University.
Teresa has been volunteering with the ESL of Southwest Michigan program since before it was part of the KLC, and after a break during Covid, she is back on Tuesday mornings. She currently teaches the level 3-4 ESL conversation class at Prince of Peace Lutheran Church. She says although 95% of her life is spent on literacy and English language development with children, it is a true joy to work with adult learners for an hour and a half each week. They are passionate, appreciative, and always up for a challenge! Building relationships with K-12 students and their families and promoting literacy among all generations are true passions for Teresa. “I am blessed to be able to work with children and adults from all around the world who have chosen the Kalamazoo area as their home, and who make our community a better place to live, work, go to school, and raise our families,” she proudly states. 

Mary Jane Vavra

Mary Jane Vavra is a beloved Literacy Advocate and champion for the Kalamazoo Literacy Council. She was a longtime Board member, where she served as secretary and on the Executive Committee. Mary Jane was instrumental in establishing the Community Literacy Center in Richland helping English language learners gain the skills they need to reach their goals. She also recruited Sandra Guizar to the KLC Board of Directors, to ensure an adult learner voice was represented at this level. We are grateful to Mary Jane for her years of leadership and support of literacy for all. 

Mard Little award for adult learner excellence recipient

Patricia Castillo Nolasco

Nominated by Karen Tinklenberg

Patricia Castillo Nolasco is the 2023 recipient of the Mard Little Award for Adult Learner Excellence. Patricia is from
Mexico and her native language is Spanish. She has been studying with the Kalamazoo Literacy
Council’s ESL of SWMI program since May 2022. She is an intermediate learner who is determined,
studious, and ambitious. Her instructor says she is very friendly, a joy to have around, and a pleasure to

Patricia has shown great progress in her English word usage, pronunciation, and reading skills. She is also polite, helpful to others, and consistently shows initiative. Her attendance has been very good, even though she doesn’t have a car and often walks to classes at Prince of Peace Lutheran Church from her home.

Patricia uses the books Patterns in Spelling and Fast Track Phonics, although in the latter she found
many lessons were too easy for her. Typically, she and her classmates study from News For You, a print and online publication about American culture and current events, where she especially likes the
crosswords. She regularly attends the Portage Public Library and recently checked out a graphic novel
that she read cover to cover!

Patricia has a degree in Industrial Engineering and looks forward to gaining employment with her
ever-improving language skills. She and her husband enjoy going to movies and out to restaurants.


Uğur Acar

Nominated by Vicki Konzen & Kathy Jefferies

Uğur Acar nominated for the Mard Little Award for Adult Learner Excellence. According to his teachers,
“Ur,” as his friends call him, was an exemplary learner in both Level 1 and Level 2 ESL classes during
the 2022-2023 school year.

Uğur is a retired Turkish air force officer. One year ago, he and his children accompanied his wife to
Kalamazoo, who is working as a faculty assistant professor at Western Michigan University. He and his
wife are both interested in studying U.S. History and Civics, and he says his family is very happy here.
Uğur knew a little English before coming to the USA, but he also knew that, living here, he needed to
learn more. Uğur consistently arrived for class on time or early, and stayed all morning with an eagerness to learn, a positive attitude, and excellent study habits. Always prepared for class, Uğur did all the homework assignments and asked for more to study on his own at home. Uğur was very attentive in class, took copious notes, and was eager to participate in class activities, such as reading aloud, participating in discussions, sharing conversations with classmates, supplying answers to
practice exercises, and asking questions. Naturally quiet, but with a smile, Uğur offered to assist his
teachers and others in any way that he could. He is pleasant, kind, and respectful to everyone.

Because of Uğur’s passionate dedication to learning English, he has progressed from Level 1 to Level 3 in one academic year! We are proud of his accomplishments and wish him all the best.


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!