Great Minds Learning Center depends on monthly contributions from sustaining donors to keep the lights on and keep tutoring costs low. We interviewed longtime supporter Jill Somero, who has made monthly donations of $70 since 2015, to find out why she gives to GMLC.

By Elana Warsen

Dyslexia became personal for Jill Somero of Maple Grove, MN when her son Wil reached second grade and was expected to do more writing in school.

“His reading ability was pretty much at grade level, but writing was very painful to the point where if he had to write two sentences he would cry,” says Jill. “He had a lot of difficulty turning his thoughts into words and a really hard time with spelling.”

Determined to help her son, Jill reached out to her childhood friend and Great Minds Learning Center Founder Marianne Jylha, who told her that Wil’s difficulties could be signs of dyslexia. Marianne provided Jill with dyslexia resources she could use to work with Wil at home.

“Once I was able to explain to Wil that some kids learn differently than others the crying stopped and he was willing to work on the techniques Marianne had taught me,” says Jill. “Spelling doesn’t slow Wil down anymore.”

Jill decided to make a sustaining donation to GMLC to help another child without the resources to pay for tutoring.

“I want to do everything I can to help,” she says. “Literacy is the foundation of lifelong learning and I don’t think financial status should prevent somebody from getting that foundation.”

For Jill, setting up a recurring donation to GMLC was a one-time decision with lasting impact.

“Giving is not a decision I make each day,” says Jill, who opted to use her bank's autopay feature to simplify the donation process. “It’s a decision I made once. I figured out how much I could afford and set up an automatic payment through my bank. The check is mailed to Grand Rapids every month. I don’t notice that the money is gone and I’m happy when I do my taxes.”

Jill’s monthly donations allow GMLC students to experience hope and success just like Wil, who is in fifth grade now, and thriving.

“I know where my $70 goes when I send it to Great Minds,” Jill says.” I can think of that one child, like Wil, and know it’s going to them.”

You, too, can make a difference in the lives of children in our community. Become a sustaining donor today. Ask your financial institution about setting up automatic recurring donations to Great Minds Learning Center.

For more information about giving to GMLC, visit our website.

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What does $2,800 buy?  Hope and opportunity.


In our community, access to specialized  educational intervention isn’t limited to families with financial means. One out of three Great Minds Learning Center students receives free lunch at school. Thanks to funding from generous donors, those students can receive our services too.


Lake Country Power sponsored Great Minds Learning Center in the 2018 Kiwanis Minute to Win It challenges on the Feb. 8 at the Timberlake Lodge in Grand Rapids, taking home the first prize award of $2,800 for GMLC!

The prize money will go directly into the scholarship fund to continue to make tutoring services available to students with financial need.

Ten corporate sponsors competed in a series of silly challenges for the chance to win money for their favorite nonprofits. The four-person team from Lake Country Power gave a fierce performance on behalf of our tutoring center.

LCP Electrical Engineering Technician Angie Clafton spoke to the audience about GMLC’s positive impact on her sons, and GMLC Executive Director Marianne Jylha gave a short talk about our organization and expressed gratitude to all for their devoted support to nonprofit organizations in the area.

We thank Lake Country Power, Grand Rapids Noon Kiwanis Club, and all of our other donors who support our students throughout the year.

Would you like to make a donation to our scholarship fund? Click here to find out how you can be part of the mission to help children and adults accomplish their educational and personal goals. Every dollar helps!

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My daughter was in the select 3%.  Impressive- a tiny sliver of the pie.  Unfortunately this was her score on a nationwide scale of spelling ability.  She was in the 4th grade and in the bottom 3% for spelling in the nation.  I am her mom and I have an elementary teaching degree with a concentration in reading and language arts.  I couldn’t help her.  Her reading skills scored closer to 20%, but still well below average.  I had been a wreck over this for 3 years already.  The next step was testing to qualify for special education services.  


One word put the skids on this train wreck: dyslexia.  Her literacy skills were in the toilet, but she demonstrated “superior reasoning” in math, exceptional social skills, a healthy IQ and fantastic problem solving skills.   You don't’ get to 4th grade as a poor reader without being creative and inventive. After a couple months of exploring options available it became obvious that I had to be the hero in this story.  What a hero needs is a super power.  I found this super power in the Barton System for Reading and Spelling.  This program came in the mail with all the training and tools I needed.  We started immediately….  We began a play of tantrums, bribery, tears, encouragement, flying notebooks, smiles, pencil stabs and growth.  After the first week I knew…  I knew we were doing intervention right.  No question about it.  It was not easy, but mother and daughter sat together at the kitchen table and we learned together.


Fast forward to conferences 2017 of her junior year of high school.  How can I describe the swell in our hearts as her dad & I met with teacher after teacher.  Seven years ago we were looking at the options… which looked like special ed or no special ed.  How could we be so lucky to have a young woman who clawed through, worked hard and brings smiles and laughter to her classes every day.  She is a solid B student with countless skills that can’t be measured.  She is a happy and successful person and we are grateful.