"If you want something done, ask a busy person to do it." --Lucille Ball
Melinda Anderson is busy.
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, retired teacher and grandmother of four.
And she is the heart and soul of New Beginnings Literacy Program.
Located in Community Outreach for Families and Youth Center in north Flint, Anderson serves as the program director and volunteers there at least 30 hours a week.
“I’m a teacher in my soul,” Anderson says. She attended Western Michigan University and started her first teaching job just two weeks after graduation. Her career took her from Kalamazoo to California. When she returned to the Flint area she worked in community education for 12 years in Flint Community Schools before retiring in 2010.
In 2014, Elder Patrick Sanders, senior pastor at New Jerusalem, asked Anderson to represent the church as part of the Flint Genesee Literacy Network.
And, Anderson found a new crusade.
Anderson trained as a literacy volunteer with a determination to reach struggling adult readers in the north end of Flint.
“Our church is in the heart of north Flint at Saginaw and East Carpenter Road,” Anderson says.
In the first year the program was open not a single adult learner came in. Young people came, but no adults. This was disappointing for Anderson, but she continued to reach out, even participating in a radio interview on WFLT.
“One gentleman heard me talk about the program on the radio,” Anderson remembers. “He walked into the COFY Center and told me he thought I sounded like somebody he could trust.”
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.
Two adults joined the group in 2015.
“One of the older gentlemen asked me, ‘Why didn’t I learn this when they were teaching me in school?’ They never taught him phonemic awareness,” she says.
Anderson and her volunteers serve community members between the ages of 25 and 66 years old. Their focus is on improving literacy and also include English as a second language assistance.
Anderson said teaching students who are in their 50s and 60s is different than a class full of children.
These students are driven by their desire to be more involved in church, to read announcements with confidence, and to be able to decipher information that comes to them in the mail. The ability to read information on the water crisis, to try new recipes, and to help children with schoolwork are all strong motivators.
But, Anderson says, “The biggest thing is scripture. They want to understand the Bible. It’s empowering.”
The New Beginnings Literacy Center is run on a shoestring budget with the first supplies coming straight out of 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.” Her passion is centered on community members who “may not be on cash assistance, but they need help. They may not be working on a GED, but they need help.”
Six to eight tutors come in regularly to assist with the program, but Anderson would love to have more. Tutoring services are available Monday through Thursday from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. and from 4 p.m. to 6:30 p.m.
The primary goal now is to find and train more volunteers and eventually to prepare someone else to take over Anderson’s role.
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.”
The Community Outreach for Families and Youth Center is located at 1015 W. Carpenter Road in Flint. For more information, check out their Facebook page