The GED prep courses has been, and continues to be, a major anchor program for Monroe Circle Community Center (MC3). Since the community center has been opened, the South Bend Community School Corporation Adult Education Department has operated a program in our facilities. Even before MC3 was in the community, GED was here helping adults get their diploma.

But if you hang out for any length of time during class you will begin to notice what makes this program special. The students are on a mission that’s being encouraged by the passion of their teachers, Sally Mager and Mary VanderKam. Sally once told me “It gets to me when someone says ‘Just get a GED,’ as if  it’s an easy thing to do. Listen, I have given the GED test to university professors and they have had difficulties passing the test.” She further states, “I make sure my students know that getting their GED is a major accomplishment.” This is typical of the encouragement they offer their students. These ladies are special. They care deeply about their students academically,

Sally with one of her students

and personally. While both are gleeful at every step of progress demonstrated by each student, you will also catch them talking privately to an obviously distraught student listening attentively to every word, offering encouragement and advice whether or not it has anything to do with school or not. It is for certain that much more than academics is happening in the Monroe Circle Community Center GED classes. Sally and Mary has created a safe space where community is happening: a community of love, acceptance, and trust where each student realize how much they matter, that each one is valued.

Mary teaches the family literacy GED program where young Moms and Dad are taking steps to earn their diploma while learning skills to teach literacy to their children. The children also come and is attended to by an amazing team of staff and volunteers. I was recently invited to a ceremony where each child was valued receiving a certificate while their parents/students were also recognized for their accomplishments in the program. In typical fashion, Mary and her staff offered nothing but encouragement, “you can do it… I have high hopes for you… you’ve come so far…”

Mary recognizing the accomplishments one of her students

Now, it wast was the students turn. Many, and at times through flowing tears, had their say whether it was the one sole dad with his son in hand, the expecting mom who is racing against time hoping that the baby will wait till after she takes the test; both are due at the same time, or the mom who made it to the ceremony despite the fact that she had broken her foot, “you gave me the confidence I needed to accomplish my goal, … I couldn’t have done this without you, … you have helped me so much even in my personal life… thank you … thank you…” over and over again the students continued. I knew that the students’ lives were being impacted through the program, but at this ceremony I found out just how much and how deep the impact ran.

Therefore it saddens us to announce that Sally and Mary will be moving on this next school year. Sally, after many years of teaching and bringing hope, is retiring. And Mary, although she will continue to teach, will be stepping down from the family literacy program.

Mary and Sally, I hope the best for you and I pray that this next season of life will be just as rewarding for you as it has been for the many students, and us at MC3, who have been rewarded because of the selfless labor of love you gave throughout the years. We are better because of you. Thank you.


  • June 10, 2011 Reply

    Mary Vanderkam

    Thanks, Leroy. Those were very kind words. It’s been great to work with you and to be able to use MC3.

  • October 28, 2011 Reply

    Kayona Bingham

    I want to personally thank Mary; this woman kept me encouraged to complete my GED back in 1998/1999 as a single mom of two girls at that time. Living in Monroe Circle, at that time, was not the most encouraging environment to live in. I was moved to see all the upgrades after all of these years; I’d lived in Monroe Circle for a total of 8 years. Mary encouraged me to get my education as well as go to college. She also told me that I should participate in the Welfare To Work program, where I was able to obtain general office clerical skills doing a subsidized work experience at both The South Bend Housing Authority and Workforce Development Service, Inc. (at the time). These experiences eventually lead to permanent employment at Workforce Development Services. Thank you Mary for keeping me encouraged to succeed and go beyond expectations!

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