New Read Muskegon program addresses literacy struggles with respect, compassion

More than 23,000 adults across Muskegon County — 1 in 6 — read below a third-grade level. The mission of Read Muskegon is to lower that number. 

Shea Ross, Read Muskegon’s program director for the past two years, says the organization has grown and expanded, finding more ways to break the generational cycle of illiteracy. 

Functional illiteracy refers to those individuals who know how to read and write simple phrases but do not have the basic aptitudes to satisfy the demands of their daily lives or to develop themselves personally and professionally. 

New ally training program

The nonprofit launched its Literacy Ally Training Program this year in response to interest and needs from its business and community partners for more awareness training around literacy. 

The new approach assists adults who are struggling with literacy and does so with dignity. Allies are trained to identify signs of literacy struggles and to address those struggles with respect and compassion.
Shea Ross of Read Muskegon led a recent Literacy Ally Training.
Faith partners are vital to community outreach and provide an ideal space for Literacy Allies to identify and assist adults that are struggling with functional illiteracy. The Community Foundation for Muskegon County provides grants for faith partners to receive Literacy Ally training.

Started in 2005, Read Muskegon was primarily volunteer-based, operating from a local church, with a focus on one-on-one tutoring services for adults struggling with reading. The first paid employee was Melissa Moore, executive director for 10 years. Today, Read Muskegon has seven employees with 40-50 regular volunteers.

Read Muskegon works to focus on the needs of learners and builds partnerships in the community to maximize the nonprofit’s impact. Ross says the organization provides literacy services for all of Muskegon County — for families, children and school-aged kids, adults, and adults learning English as a second language.

Identifying those who struggle

The Literacy Ally Training Program was born out of questions presented by business and community partners, who wanted to know how to identify those who were struggling with reading. 

A person’s struggle with literacy can affect many areas of their lives, says Ross. “The impact that it has on finding a job, connecting with children, responding to school correspondence, medical issues, insurance … if you’re not fully able to navigate those parts of society, then you are definitely experiencing a barrier.”
Read Muskegon brings together people from all age groups and backgrounds to learn from each other in an effort to increase literacy.
Reaching those who struggle with literacy can be a challenge with learners usually coming to Read Muskegon for assistance because of referrals. The Literacy Ally Training Program is important due to how hard it can be to reach those in need of help with their reading.

Ross explains that the training helps expand awareness, advocacy, and the resource network. “It helps more people become aware of the issue and helps them help others get connected.”

The program has been implemented for businesses and organizations in the community that serve the public, particularly for staff in roles that work with people. Ross says the training helps staff identify cues that an individual might be struggling with literacy and how to respectfully address these issues with the employee.

The Literacy Ally Training Program, provided at a cost, is presented in one two-hour workshop that Ross can host onsite for organizations or facilitate as a workshop at a public site that is open to community participation. It also entails assisting and supporting individuals to become more competent in the long term if they desire to improve their reading skills.

Ross says Read Muskegon provides a greater collective impact through advocacy activities, empowering communities to speak to their leaders and more about adult education opportunities. Free one-on-one services are available for any adult or K-12 students. Training is available for volunteers to become tutors, who are matched with learners according to their skills and availability.

Adult literacy classes

In addition to one-on-one services, the organization also provides literacy classes, including adult classes at Muskegon Community College and learning the English language at Covenant Community Church. Read Muskegon also partners with local businesses to facilitate onsite English classes for adults.

In addition, Read Muskegon offers general literacy classes as part of re-entry programs for the incarcerated or those leaving prison — operating programs in the jail, including the Muskegon County Jail for women — to assist students in developing functional life literacy skills.

An upcoming public Literacy Ally training will be held from 10 a.m. to noon on May 25 at the Read Muskegon office, 26 E. Broadway Ave., Muskegon Heights. Space is limited for this training, but anyone interested in attending can register here.

For group and individual cost information for the Literacy Ally Training Program, contact Ross at
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