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Literacy Center of West Michigan changing lives

Chef Carl
Posted at 6:00 AM, Apr 29, 2022
and last updated 2022-04-29 08:40:10-04

GRAND RAPIDS, Mi. — The Literacy Center of West Michigan is committed to making this a region with the highest literacy levels in the nation. But that's a goal that takes constant commitment.

One in 8 adults in our area struggle with reading or writing. But volunteers are changing the lives of participants and vice versa.

Chef Carl Clark is proving it's never too late to learn. But one place he’s an expert is in the kitchen. He says, “I love to see people eat and enjoy it. It does something to me, it put a smile on my heart.”

No matter where his adventures take him, food is a constant. Family brought him from Trinidad to Manhattan in 1977. It was family that eventually brought him to west Michigan 24 years later.

Today he's the head chef of 40 Acres Soul Kitchen in Grand Rapids. He says, "It brings me home to my grandkids. I could spend time with them I could cook I felt so touched to know they could come here and sit down and have a meal with their gramp.”

Chef Carl spent most of his early life working and raising a family, so other priorities fell by the wayside. He says he didn’t have too much schooling in Trinidad. Now that he has grandkids, he wants to be able to read to them and help them understand how important an education is. That's why he's worked with Jennifer Summers at the Literacy Center of West Michigan for four years. She's not only the program coordinator, but she’s also a volunteer.

She says, "We've been doing a lot of reading of different texts, depending on what he's interested in. The food safety, a lot of American history, a lot of biography, different people, places, geography. He's also looking to become a naturalized citizen, that's one of his goals, so we've worked on the 100 questions of the citizenship interview.”

Right now, there is a waiting list of learners who need to be paired with a volunteer, and Jennifer says, it's worth every minute of her time. "You really get to know each other and to share your stories with one another so it really builds community and a sense of grounding and purpose in what we're doing, so it's very rewarding.”

For Chef Carl, he's not only learning more at every meeting but he’s also made a friend for life, and he encourages anyone who needs some help, to not be afraid to ask for it.

"I told her one day I say you will be proud of me I am going to make it and I’m thankful for that program and anybody who's listening anybody who's seen this don't be ashamed. Don't be ashamed for getting an education.”

If you would like to learn more about the programs through the Literacy Center of West Michigan, or if you’re interested in becoming a volunteer, head to their website,