Three individuals were recognized for their exemplary service to Flint & Genesee County as members of the Council of Champions. Recognized for their support of the Campaign for Grade-Level Reading and the effort to help students achieve reading proficiency by the end of the third grade were:
Ms. Melinda Anderson is a game changer! A retired teacher who served 44 years in the public school system, Ms. Anderson is the founder and volunteer program director at the New Beginnings Literacy Program for adults and children. In addition to coordinating the efforts at New Beginnings, Ms. Anderson supports the broader coalition by developing free community-wide trainings for volunteers and providers as well as facilitating onsite visits and lending expertise to partners interested in advancing adult literacy.
She attended Western Michigan University and started her first teaching job just two weeks after graduation. She is an active member of the New Jerusalem Full Gospel Baptist Church usher board, secretary for the New McCree Theatre board of directors, member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority-Flint Alumni Chapter, and grandmother of four. Her career took her from Kalamazoo to California. When she returned to the Flint-area, she worked in Community Education programs for 12 years through Flint Community Schools before retiring in 2010. Ms. Anderson is now the heart and soul of the Community Outreach for Families and Youth Center’s (COFY) New Beginnings Literacy Program
The New Beginnings Literacy Program is run on a shoestring budget with its first program supplies coming straight out of Ms. Anderson’s basement teacher stash. She dreams of a day when literacy centers like New Beginnings receive public recognition and funding to support what she calls “the underserved population that nobody notices.” Ms. Anderson’s challenge to the community is clear: Get involved and be committed. “We’re all busy. My life is full. We have to do our part and not leave it to someone else to do. This is your community.”
Her passion is centered on community members who “may not be on cash assistance but need help! They may not be working on a GED, but they need help!,” says Anderson. “Too often, adults feel stigmatized by their challenges with reading and seek to hide rather than ask for help,” Anderson said. “They often feel inadequate instead of considering that perhaps the educational system failed them.”
Ms. Anderson’s uncompromising commitment to addressing and eradicating adult learning barriers is representative of the commitment we expect from all community members. As a member of the Council of Champions, Ms. Anderson will be dogged in her advocacy for children, their parents, and adults challenged by low-literacy.
Kathi Horton is a community leader who has spent her life engaged in work that aligns with her deepest beliefs—getting resources to people who have faced generations of discrimination, activating a community’s generosity for the sake of subsequent generations, and advancing the importance of early childhood education. For 35 years, Horton has led nonprofit organizations specializing in education, human services, and philanthropy.
From 2004 to 2017, Horton served as President of the Community Foundation of Greater Flint (CFGF), a charitable organization focused on engaging people in philanthropy to build a stronger community. Under her leadership, the Foundation developed new strategic priorities around improving literacy rates, increasing access to healthy food, strengthening resident-led neighborhood improvements, and providing critical resources to the children affected by the Flint Water Crisis.
During her tenure as Chief Executive Officer of the YWCA of Greater Flint, from 1993 – 2004, Horton played a pivotal role in the reorganization of the National YWCA and helped to establish the Racial Justice Department at the local YW. Prior to moving to Flint, in 1990, she served as Director of Canton Montessori School in Canton, Ohio for 11 years. Under her leadership the school became a regional model for quality early childhood education.
Horton has served on the board of directors of Uptown Reinvestment Corporation and on the Strategic Board and Regional Leadership Council of the Flint & Genesee Chamber of Commerce. Regionally she served as a board member of Michigan Community Foundations’ Venture, an initiative begun by the Council of Michigan Foundations (CMF) to strengthen the role community foundations play in philanthropy, and also served on CMF’s Community Foundations Committee. Currently, in retirement, Kathi remains connected to her passions as the Chair of the Flint & Genesee Literacy Network Steering Committee.
As Steering Committee Chair, Kathi has leveraged her expertise to ensure substance and meaning are deeply embedded into the DNA of our network. Her leadership and uncompromising commitment to advancing equity, combined with her decades-long commitment to improving the lives of vulnerable learners demonstrates Kathi’s qualification for the Council of Champions. And, because of this, we are honored to recommend Kathi Horton for the GLR Council of Champions.
It seems that everyone in the United States is glued to the story about Flint and the water crisis. The silver lining of the Flint Water Crisis is that our community is more aligned, driven and resilient than ever before. We know that investments in literacy will play a critical role in ensuring that Flint children have the resources and support they need to live healthy and happy lives.
In communities of every size, public libraries provide leadership, information, tools, and a place where people connect to fulfill the roles and responsibilities of active civic engagement. This is especially true of the Flint Public Library (FPL). Because of their well-earned stature as a trusted community resource, FPL plays an important role in shaping and leading discussions along with forging strategies and decisions that advance community goals related to grade-level reading.
Director, Kay Schwartz, leads the Flint Public Library through three specific areas: community engagement, technology access, and two-generational learning. Kay’s leadership on these issues of central importance to grade-level reading uniquely positions her for the Council of Champions.
Under Kay’s leadership, FPL staff actively engage in conversations about mobilizing resources. “We are at the table,” says Schwartz. “We have to know who is doing what and how people can get help. Flint has a well-developed network of organizations that collaborate effectively. We don’t need to create the solution, we just need to know what it looks like and know how people can access it.” As a member of the FGLN Steering Committee, Kay ensures this commitment is considered in each Network-endorsed strategy.
With many Flint residents not having access to broadband internet, FPL has committed to ensuring residents have access to the information and internet resources they need. “We are not only the doorway to information; we are the knob that allows people to even get into the door!” says Schwartz.
FPL is a connector for generous people around the country into the Flint community. Schwartz says the calls are amazing. “We (are) able to link (them)…to the centralized distribution sources. In that way, (they) could merge into the existing system rather than creating something new at the library. Our community trust us,” attest Schwartz. “We take that trust seriously, and want to provide information when and how people need it.”
The Flint Public Library’s mission is to be the go-to place for learning across the lifespan. Schwartz’s leadership ensures this is accomplished with an emphasis on family literacy. Schwartz states that, “the best way for the library to make an impact is to teach parents simple activities that nurture pre-reading skills and can easily fit into their home lives.”
Kay’s leadership in expanding the reach of FPL into early education and her willingness to leverage her expertise to advance this area, positions her strongly to serve on the Council of Champions as a leader of our partner organizations. It is for all of these reasons that we proudly recommend Kay Schwartz, Director of Flint Public Library, to GLR Council of Champions.