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Susan K. Ledy


Community Literacy Initiative

1120 Monroe Ave NW
Suite 240
Grand Rapids, Michigan 49503
Since 1983, Susan Ledy, with a background in teaching, has been at the helm of the Literacy Center of West Michigan working to improve literacy in a way that positively impacts adults, families, companies, schools and the entire community. 
Michigan Nightlight: What is one concrete thing that could be done to improve the environment for social sector work in Michigan? 
Susan K. Ledy, President/CEO of Literacy Center of West Michigan: Informing and educating the public on the importance of nonprofit social service organizations, how nonprofits contribute to the economic development of the community, and how they are efficient ways to deliver services. Nonprofits are businesses with real overhead, real leadership and administrative needs, real infrastructure costs – as much as a for-profit.
It is important that nonprofits are seen as a critical – not optional – sector.
 It is important that nonprofits are seen as a critical – not optional – sector. 
How do you know you’re making progress?
When more adults and families in the community are accessing literacy services. When individuals are learning to read, or improving English [skills]. When those who are in our programs change life opportunities because of their new abilities, such as enrolling in community college, moving into a new position at their companies, getting a job or being able to communicate in English with a teacher about their child’s education. As people become more literate and more educated, they can earn a higher wage and create a better way of life for themselves and their families.
What are you most proud of?  
The innovative growth and far-reaching strategies developed at the Literacy Center for changing the landscape of literacy in the Grand Rapids area. We began in 1986 as a contract of the Grand Rapids Public Library housed in one room, with two part-time staff. We have grown to an organization of 30 staff, serving 1,500 adults and families annually. Our services to families are provided at the schools the children attend, encouraging not only intergenerational literacy, but also parent engagement. I am proud, too, of the Literacy Center recently taking on a greater leadership role in our community to create solutions with many local partners to change the dynamics to build a community that is literate.
What does being a leader mean to you?
From the larger perspective of leadership, it means changing concepts to action. It takes a leader to share the vision to move an idea from a concept, to develop the external and the internal support to move the idea forward, identify and raise the financial support to take it further, and then provide the motivation and the urgency to begin the steps toward action. It takes a leader to move the concept through its many forms and detours, to again garner support and ultimately involve staff members to take the idea to the next level, to carry out a plan and see it through.
What is your dream for kids?
My dream is that all children will be provided with the love and instruction needed to become good readers by the third grade. If children can read well by third grade, they can turn reading skills into learning as they enter their more advanced grades. I have seen too many adults who enter our program reading at a third grade level as an adult. Imagine the effects of not learning how to read on a child’s self esteem, and on his/her ability to excel in high school. Lack of reading skills lead to academic struggles and higher dropout rates among our older students. 
Along with other community partners, the Literacy Center took a leadership role in making an application to the Campaign for Third Grade Reading, which creates awareness of the problem and looks to our community to work together to find the solution. We can all contribute to helping children read by third grade by thinking of the solution as an intergenerational circle.
We can all contribute to helping children read by third grade by thinking of the solution as an intergenerational circle.
We all can intersect with the circle – teaching parents to read, parents playing and talking with babies, providing summer activities for all children, training teachers well and other ways – ultimately raising the literacy level of our community.
Reflecting on your career, what would you say was your greatest professional learning experience? 
I was honored to be asked to introduce Dr. Juan Olivarez, at that time President of Grand Rapids Community College, to an audience of 100 people at a celebration for him announcing to the community his appointment by President George W. Bush to the board of the National Institute of Literacy. It was such an honor that I wanted to make sure I said the right things and said them well.
I chose words carefully, using the words “We are creating a pipeline between Washington D.C. and Grand Rapids and between literacy and college” to describe the connection we were creating between the Literacy Center and GRCC and the President’s office and our community. I used the words “President Bush did his homework when he selected Dr. Olivarez for this position” to depict the importance and future impact of selecting Juan to the board. The audience complimented me on the delivery and message, not to mention Juan’s expression of appreciation for all of my kind words. The professional learning experience was about the importance of words and the weight spoken words carry.  
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