Locals in the US state of Michigan donate resources to school in Liberia

By Catherine Sweeney, Pioneer Staff Writer |

Bongard and Finney stand with teachers they trained in phonics. These teachers will take what they learned and implement it into their current curriculum. (Courtesy photo)

BIG RAPIDS — On Nov. 4, a team of six locals in the U.S. States of Michigan embarked on a trip to Liberia to help teach students at the Betty Memorial Institute in Grand Cape Mount County.

Varney Freeman, who founded the school, asked the group to come visit after working with Bruce Gregory — who organized the trip — on several projects in the past.

Other locals in the group included Anne Videtich, Colleen Gregory, Suzanne and Dennis Finney and Sharon Bongard.

“I was speaking with Bruce about his plan to go and then I shared it with Suzanne and it just kind of evolved from there,” Bongard said.

Finney, director of SLD Read, a local organization which tutors students in reading, was asked to provide instruction in phonics, an area the school struggles with.

Her husband, Dennis Finney, who teaches vocational studies at Ferris State University, also jumped on board with the project to help connect students to vocational opportunities in their area.

“That’s what Varney wanted,” Suzanne Finney said. “He identified the areas they lacked resources in and phonics and vocational studies were some of the areas he identified.”

She added SLD Read donated training materials to help train teachers on the best practices in teaching phonics.

“The big focus wasn’t going to teach the students. It was to train the teachers so they could move forward and teach the kids when we’re gone,” Dennis Finney said.

In addition to teaching phonics and vocational studies, the group received donations from local area groups to help the school build a library.

With 20 dictionaries donated by the Big Rapids Lions Club, a grant from the Big Rapids chapter of the General Federation of Women’s Clubs, funding from Trinity Fellowship Church, as well as donations from numerous individuals, the group was able to build a library with approximately 500 books.

Before departing on the trip, the group also received training from Ferris librarians in order to teach librarians at BMI how to use the Dewey Decimal System for organizing and cataloging books.

“The library has a lot of room to grow, but it’s a start,” Bongard said, adding the group is hoping to hear an update in the near future on how students are enjoying their new library.

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