Donor Spotlight - Rochelle Riley
Rochelle Riley, award-winning, nationally recognized columnist for the Detroit Free Press, has been a passionate advocate for adult literacy most of her professional career. Shortly after joining the paper in Detroit in 2000, she launched a campaign that over time would recruit thousands of volunteers and raise tens of thousands of dollars.
So when she met Sr. Maureen Mulcrone, former director of marketing and development, it didn’t take much convincing for her to accept an invitation to visit MEP.
“I was blown away,” said the 2007 Knight-Wallace Fellow at the University of Michigan. “You look into the faces of those girls and realize that MEP is shining a light on what their lives can be. Flying under the radar, MEP uses its money to provide services directly to the girls. They do what they say they are going to do. It’s well structured and effective.”
Last year, Rochelle threw an anniversary party on 12-12-12 marking her 12-year tenure at the Detroit Free Press. It attracted more than 300 well-wishers and friends and raised more than $36,000 for literacy efforts in Detroit. The money was shared by MEP and the Dominican Literacy Center, a one-to-one adult literacy program also in Detroit. It was so successful that she has decided to make it an annual event—“The Every December Fundraiser for Literacy”— for which MEP will be a primary beneficiary.
Rochelle, who emceed the Doorway to the Future Dinner and Auction in 2013, is back on board for 2014—“and for every year after that if they want me,”—was honored by MEP in 2010 as a PHD awardee for her Positive Attitude, Hard Work and Dedication. She also participated in MEP’s 20th anniversary “Readers are Leaders” program.
Rochelle is no stranger to accolades. She won the 2013 National Headliner Award for local column writing; was one of eight Ambassadors of the Year named by Ambassador magazine and earned the 2013 Distinguished Leadership in Media award from the Michigan Business and Professional Association. Hour Detroit magazine readers voted her the Best Local Female Columnist for the third year in a row, and she contributed to the coverage of former Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick’s corruption scandal that earned the 2009 Pulitzer Prize for Local Reporting.
“Mercy Education Project is a great place for people who are looking to use their time, talent and money in service to a good cause,” she added. “You can actually see the difference you are making in students’ lives.”
Volunteer spotlight - Kay Sulfaro
Kay Sulfaro joined Mercy Education Project in early 2013 when a newspaper article about literacy programs in the City of Detroit caught her eye. “There were a number of programs featured, but Mercy Education Project really appealed to me,” said the retired teacher/instructional designer. “I contacted Lisa Fuller, volunteer coordinator, and she invited me to come down and see for myself.”
What Kay saw when she got there was a crowded building with donated computers, women students who really wanted to improve their lives and a dedicated staff who were doing their best to make it happen. She also saw a wall with pictures of Latino, Black and hijab-cloaked women in graduation gowns. “I could feel the sense of community. It was a very welcoming, nurturing environment,” she said. “I wanted to be a part of this.”
Impressed with the rigorous, structured, four-day-a-week program, Kay felt it was a formula for success. “The prevailing message to the women is, ‘You must focus, commit and work hard; but if you do, we will help you succeed.’”
Kay teaches the highest level writing course in the GED program—“I’m the last one before they actually take the test,” she said. “We work really hard to get them ready. Formal writing for many of our students is a challenge— solid paragraphs, sentence structure, punctuation and grammar don’t come easily.” But Kay is committed. “I want my women to pass that GED. In my class, we send each woman off with a group hug and I tell them that I hope they don’t need to come back to our class; but if they do, we will welcome them with open arms to try again. Their success is important to me.” It’s a trait that is common to all the volunteer instructors and tutors.
“I went to the graduation ceremony this year and was astounded to see over 100 volunteers show up to share in the students’ celebration,” she said. Kay also helping formalize, update and standardize the curricula for the Women’s Program to meet the common core standards that will be required in 2104 and to provide effective teaching resources for the instructors.
Volunteeer Spotlight - Don Poterek
When IT supervisor Don Poterek saw Mercy Education Project as one of the volunteer opportunities DTE Energy was promoting for its employees, he thought he’d look into it.
“I work downtown, so I’m close by, and I decided to check it out,” he said. That was three years ago. Today, the Wayne State computer science grad has tutored girls at the third, fifth and seventh grade levels in math, vocabulary and reading, and he continues to be impressed with the quality of the program at MEP.
“I immediately saw how well organized it was,” he said. “I like how the girls are individually evaluated so they can be placed at a level that challenges them but doesn’t overwhelm them; and I appreciate the structure, discipline and rigor of the whole program--of course, being in IT that really appeals to me.” He also likes that MEP isn’t considered a punishment by the girls—like some after-school detention, but, rather the girls realize that someone in their lives cared enough to sign them up for this enrichment experience, and they are eager to participate.
Volunteer spotlight - Mary Wolking
Mary Wolking was doing some part-time substitute teaching and very busy with her active family of four young sons, when she met Mercy Education Project’s Kathleen Ojeda, lead adult education instructor, at a Detroit Regional Chamber event.
“Kathy started telling me about Mercy Education Project and all the good work it was doing. She gave me her business card, and I tucked it away in a jewelry box,” said Mary, whose husband works for the Chamber. “Years later, when my youngest son graduated from high school, I called her and ask how I could get involved.”
Involved indeed. Last year, the former high school French teacher logged more than 400 volunteer hours at MEP.
Mary immediately was impressed by the quiet atmosphere at MEP. “It wasn’t chaotic or noisy—and it was obvious that everyone had the best interests of the women at heart. MEP is a very welcoming program that respects everyone—faculty, staff and students. Also, because there are no men in the program, I think the women in the GED prep program are more comfortable participating,” she said.
Mary currently teaches language arts two days a week working mostly with entry level students. “For many of them, English is not their first language,” she said. “So, we spend a lot of time on the basics.” In addition, she is providing one-to-one tutoring for a student from Cameroon, who is preparing for the French version of the GED.
Over the past year Mary also has become increasingly involved with fundraising events and other activities. She worked on the alumni reunion last fall, has assisted with acquisition of items for the event auctions, and is currently investigating a movie screening as a PR event. She has been instrumental in reviewing and revising the curriculum to be in keeping with the new GED standards that will go into effect in 2014.
Now serving on the development committee, she is helping chart the future course of MEP. “Success creates challenges,” she said, referencing the explosive growth in the program and the possibility of needing to find a bigger building. “We have to decide what our future will be.”