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Lansing nonprofit provides literacy services to the community

February 19, 2024
Books are available for free to the public at the Captiol Area Literacy Coalition office in Lansing, Mich.., Feb. 15, 2024. The Capitol Area Literacy Coalition is a non-profit organization that aims to help anyone in the greater-Lansing area improver their literacy skills.
Books are available for free to the public at the Captiol Area Literacy Coalition office in Lansing, Mich.., Feb. 15, 2024. The Capitol Area Literacy Coalition is a non-profit organization that aims to help anyone in the greater-Lansing area improver their literacy skills.

The Capital Area Literacy Coalition, or CALC, provides literacy programs and other services to members of the Greater Lansing community. Under the leadership of CALC Executive Director Barbara Schmidt, the organization focuses on connecting with immigrant families, K-12 students and lower-income households through literacy programs.

The CALC’s Free Library and Book Exchange program runs Monday through Thursday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., and includes thousands of books of various genres and age groups on-site. For those unable to attend the Free Library hours during the week, the library is open on the second Saturday of each month from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. 

In 1985, Michigan State University professors recognized the need for literacy initiatives in the Lansing community. Professor at the MSU College of Education Lois A. Bader founded the Capital Area Literacy Coalition to address these needs, later passing the torch to Schmidt.

When entering the library, community members are encouraged to take as many books as pique their interest. The library contains thousands of books and provides a box for guests to fill up.

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“Everyone loves the library,” Schmidt said. “At the end of the day, people will say they want another ten minutes to scan all the books. It’s so wonderful to see such excitement for reading from our community. It’s why I love my job.”

The Free Library and Book Exchange is open to anyone and everyone, and requires no sign-up or registration. Donations and requests can be arranged through their website.

Brian Babiasz is in charge of the English as a Second Language, or ESL, program at the coalition. ESL covers a variety of topics and helps non-English speakers assimilate to an English-speaking country.

Babiasz said that some clients come in with no previous knowledge and require translation services, whereas others come for aid with transitioning to American culture.

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ESL also aids clients with gaining citizenship by providing free tutoring services to assess how far along clients are in their journey of gaining citizenship. Based on where they’re at, Babiasz then creates a learning plan to help find their sense of national identity. While some clients only require tutoring for the test, other clients may require aid with attaining proper documentation. 

Clients establish what goals they want to achieve with Barbiasz, who then creates and guides their learning plans. 

“The expression on a client’s face when they accomplish the goals they set is priceless,” Barbiasz said.

With approximately sixty active clients, ESL thrives on the commitment of MSU volunteers.

The Lansing area anticipates an influx of 500 refugee families, according to Barbiasz. He said that this influx will create an urgent need for more tutors. 

“We really count on MSU volunteers for our programs and tutors,” Schmidt said. “Without them, we don’t know where we’d be.”

CALC offers a General Education Development, or GED,  program, directed by Will LeCorn. This initiative aids clients in earning a high school diploma equivalent, a crucial stepping stone toward higher education or career pursuits. The program, engaging around one-hundred active clients, caters to individual needs with tailored learning plans.

When clients first arrive, LeCorn runs an assessment and then establishes a learning plan with tutors. Based on their needs, a client may need more help in one subject than the other. Clients have the opportunity to connect with GED classes on-site where they interact with other clients if necessary.

“Language arts, math, science and history are all reading comprehension based,” LeCorn said. “Fortunately, our clients are coming to a place where we excel in literacy. They’re receiving the best resources in the area to get their GED.”

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LeCorn said that the GED program is predominantly embraced by adults, however, it welcomes anyone striving to earn their diploma.

The Read to Succeed program, slated to restart in the fall, collaborates with various sectors of the Lansing community to uplift local students in literacy.

In the past, Read to Succeed met twice a week and used different activities and opportunities to help students improve their literacy skills. Schmidt said Read to Succeed embodies CALC's dedication to making learning a fun and immersive experience for students.

The Capital Area Literacy Coalition goes beyond literacy, striving to meet community needs and nurture well-rounded individuals. From embracing new languages and cultures to providing a rich literary landscape, CALC stands as a pillar of academic and social growth, said Babiasz. 

“We all do what we love here and what we love is seeing our community grow,” Barbiasz said. “Whether they’re growing academically or socially, it is why we do what we do here at CALC.”

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