Adult literacy programs revived with $20,000 donation

'(We) just managed to keep it alive with little dribs and drabs of money we had'

After limping along for the past two years without government funding, adult literacy instruction in Kamloops has a shot in the arm.

A $20,000 donation from the Stollery Foundation will enable Secwepemc Cultural Education Society to resume the Partner-Assisted Learning program this fall.

That's good news because demand for the one-on-one instruction was far greater than expected, said George Kaliszewski, executive director of the society.

"We missed funding for two consecutive years through the province and just managed to keep it alive with little dribs and drabs of money we had," he said.

Kaliszewski had thought of cancelling the program entirely, but demand convinced him otherwise.

"In fact, in a few years it's grown exponentially and I didn't realize that adult literacy was such a problem in Kamloops."

The program grew from eight pairs of volunteers and learners at the outset to 30 pairs at its peak.

"It seemed like every year we were exceeding what we expected. It's funny, because you have people in the program who come from all walks of life."

Many of the clients were of middle age and had left school early in an era when there was gainful employment to be found in the resource sector. When the economy shifts and those jobs disappear, displaced workers find themselves trapped by a lack of education.

"Suddenly we get a lot of very poorly educated people out there, and there's not very many well-paying jobs you can access nowadays without at least a high school diploma."

The society takes clients who are referred from other community agencies.

"There really is a need," said Fiona Claire, outreach worker with Literacy in Kamloops (LINK).

One survey indicated 35 per cent of adults read at a relatively low literacy level that prevents them from performing simple life skills, such as reading a bus schedule or applying for a job. At KRCC, the figure may be as high as 70 per cent.

The embarrassment alone can prevent people from overcoming the liability.

"They need that one-on-one," Claire said. "It's a huge stigma. We're really encouraging (Secwepemc Cultural Education Society) to work more in partnership with the Homelessness Action Plan and other community agencies so there is a good referral of clients."

Claire and her counterparts in Chase and Clearwater gave an update on community literacy programs to Kamloops-Thompson School Board on Monday night.

The board played a lead role in initiating community literacy initiatives, which have taken on a life of their own.

Programs in Kamloops are in sound financial shape, thanks to grants and the success of the Raise A Reader Campaign held in September, Claire said.

Kerry Milner-Cairns, outreach worker in Clearwater, noted that the Barriere adult literacy program will resume as well.

Milner-Cairns said a community literacy office is to open in the fall at Dutch Lake elementary school, which was closed nine years ago due to falling enrolment.

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