The Decoder – April 2015

From the Desk of the CEO
Brenda

Many things have happened in the last four months in the B.C. literacy field.

I would like to start my message by thanking the Columbia Basin Alliance for Literacy for presenting its Literacy Champions award to Decoda Literacy Solutions. We are grateful for being acknowledged for our “dedication and contributions to literacy and lifelong learning.” I would like to recognize the staff and Board at Decoda for their ongoing commitment and passion and I would also like to recognize and applaud everyone who works hard to make literacy and learning a priority in our province – we share this award with you!

The news is particularly encouraging as this is a very challenging time for literacy and essential skills work in British Columbia and across Canada. Over the past year, several national and provincial organizations have closed or have been reduced.

In B.C., funding reductions for adult basic education in the K-12 and post-secondary education systems have impacted thousands of people and increased pressure on community-based adult literacy programs, which already operate with limited resources.

Increasingly, government funding across the country is being directed to those individuals who have adequate foundational literacy and numeracy skills and can be quickly “upskilled” to fill the skills gap in the labour market, which puts a whole segment of the population at risk.

Currently, there are more than 290,000 people in our province who have very limited literacy abilities and they generally are not able to participate in these types of training programs, which means they are in danger of being left behind. Decoda is passionate about providing opportunities for these people to reach their full potential and we know you share this passion.

The community-based literacy model is effective and provides solutions for addressing the needs of British Columbians with low literacy skills. Because of this, we continue to work with government, business and industry, community leaders and our donors to find solutions … and we’re making some progress.

The Ministry of Education recently announced an initiative to develop a provincial literacy strategy and we have been invited to participate. At a time when a skilled local workforce is more important than ever, a strategy that includes everyone is crucial, and we applaud the Ministry for acting on this.

We are also grateful to the Ministry for their commitment to funding literacy coordination this year and we’d like to thank PostMedia and the Raise a Reader campaign and our other sponsors and donors for your ongoing commitment to literacy and learning. Without your support, we could not continue this important work! Thank you.

As always, I encourage you to contact me with any suggestions, comments or concerns.

Warm Regards,

Brenda

Brenda Le Clair

P.S. To see the impact that your support has on communities and individuals, click here.

From the Field: Tenneh & Diane
Sheri and her family play cards. Photo by Mike Leland.

“My son came home one day and asked me to help him with his homework and I couldn’t. From that moment on, I said I am going to learn to read and write so I can help my child.”

As a young girl in war-torn Sierra Leone, Tenneh witnessed more tragedy than many people in Canada could imagine. Due to the intense political conflict surrounding her, she lost both of her parents and multiple siblings.

Tenneh’s early experiences prompted her to find many different ways to survive in her harsh surroundings.  Eventually, in 2003, she made her way to Canada. Upon arriving in the Metro Vancouver area, Tenneh initially felt relief, and was excited about her new beginnings.  However, these feelings soon changed as she faced the reality of moving to a new country that she knew very little about.

While life in Canada was far safer than the one she left behind, Tenneh began to experience challenges of a different kind. Having only gone to school until age 11, her literacy skills were underdeveloped and she had a limited grasp of the English language. She soon realized that she hadn’t met people to help her navigate the new obstacles that arose in daily life – in essence, she needed a support group.

The lack of a support group became increasingly apparent with each week. She couldn’t travel because she couldn’t read street signs or understand directions.  She couldn’t find meaningful work because she was unable to fill out an online application; even grocery shopping was intimidating because she couldn’t understand the labels or read a receipt.

“I did not know if I was doing anything correctly…I was embarrassed and scared!”

Tenneh began to feel helpless.  “I didn’t know if I was doing anything correctly,” she recalls. “I didn’t know if I was being cheated at the grocery store or if I was going to get lost one day and not find my way home. And I was embarrassed and scared!”

Privately, she began to feel that her situation was increasingly dire. However, thanks to her son, she decided that she was the one who would create positive life change, with assistance.

“My son came home…and asked me to help him with his homework, and I couldn’t,” she remembers.
“From that moment on, I said I am going to learn to read and write so I can help my child.”

After this interaction with her son, Tenneh began to actively connect with the literacy programs in her community; eventually, she was paired with an adult literacy tutor named Diane Kinch.

Diane is a former elementary school teacher who, for the last two years, has been volunteering her time to teach adult learners.  “I met Tenneh and I was immediately impressed with her attitude and her work ethic,” she recalls.

The grandmother and a mother of two connected emotionally with her learner after she found out that Tenneh was driven to improve the life of her child. Once this connection was made, they began a literacy journey together.

Tenneh’s work ethic allowed her to make incredible progress after only a short time. With Diane’s help, she went from merely knowing the letters of the alphabet to full reading and comprehension; reading street signs and product labels no longer were an issue.  She also excelled in mathematics and is now using a computer on a daily basis. Most importantly for Tenneh, she can now read books to her son.

Tenneh now has a strong sense of self-confidence, and in her words, is “doing whatever I want to do.” She no longer feels intimidated by the tasks of daily life; she is no longer embarrassed by an inability to fill out an application and can ask a cashier about something on her grocery receipt.

She has found the support group that she sought when she first moved to Canada; as well, she and Diane still work together to reach new goals, and moreover, have become very good friends.

“Tenneh has been empowered,” says Diana. “I am so proud of her … it just goes to show you what literacy can do for someone’s life.”

Decoda Literacy Solutions provides resources, training and funds to support adult learners in British Columbia. For more information about adult literacy, contact us at info@decoda.ca.

Literacy Practitioner Spotlight: Sharnelle
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 “There is a clear link between developing all of our literacies and changing our lives for the better and without community literacy we lose a valuable community building and learning resource.”

Sharnelle Jenkins, one of 102 Literacy Outreach Coordinators (LOCs) in B.C., shows poise and presence beyond her 24 years. Her passion for literacy, vibrancy, and understanding of the community around her makes her a true asset to community-based literacy.

Sharnelle was drawn to literacy at an early age because of a strong influence in her family. She recalls that her mother was very clear about the positive impact that lifelong learning has on a person and a family.

“I was able to quickly become passionate about this work – and understand the impact it can have – due to my own upbringing,” she says. Her mother’s words still echo in her mind as she works with learners in the Kensington-Cedar Cottage neighbourhood of Vancouver.

Kensington-Cedar Cottage is an area where life can be a struggle for many individuals and families. Cedar Cottage Neighbourhood House is nestled in East Vancouver, an area with diverse socio-economic backgrounds where income levels, isolation and even mental health issues can prove to be barriers for gaining literacy skills.

“Our lives exist in complex systems. It makes it hard for someone to think about how they want their future to be and what skills they need to develop when they’re faced with these types of difficult challenges.”

Sharnelle is acutely aware of the atmosphere surrounding the Neighbourhood House. “Our lives exist in complex systems,” she observes. “It makes it hard for someone to think about how they want their future to be and what skills they need to develop when they’re faced with these types of difficult challenges.”

Fortunately, there are a number of community resources available to residents of the area where people can feel safe and build friendships – many of which exist at the Neighbourhood House.

“It’s a place that says ‘yes, you matter and your community sees you,’” says Sharnelle.

The neighbourhood house runs programs and events that bring people in the surrounding community together. The focus of the programs is varied, and meets the needs of area residents; there are sessions designed for children and families, including for child care and food security programs.  Instruction in English language and seniors’ programs are also offered.  Most of the programs are free of charge and are run year-round – though no-cost programming is becoming more difficult to maintain for organizers.

“Sometimes I feel like we are moving backwards,” says Sharnelle. “We face funding cuts all the time and our resources are continually being stretched.”

Despite diminished funding, the organization continues to meet the needs of the Cedar Cottage area.  Sharnelle and her colleagues continually find more creative and solutions-oriented to ensure that the Neighbourhood House remains an important area resource for residents. They work with an inspirational level of pride and optimism.

“There’s a clear link between developing all of our literacies and changing our lives for the better,” Sharnelle notes. “Without community literacy [in our area], we lose a valuable community building and learning resource.”

Decoda distributes funding to 102 Literacy Outreach Coordinators, who work with Community Task Groups in over 400 communities across British Columbia. Together, they identify local literacy priorities, assess community strengths and weaknesses, and set goals and action plans to address community literacy priorities. For more information about community literacy click here or contact us at info@decoda.ca.

Donor Spotlight: Free Reign & Associates
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Free Rein Associates Training Ltd. made a gift of $500 to sponsor 25 children and parents for a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to attend Decoda’s Family Literacy Weekend at the TELUS World of Science.

When asked why Free Rein made their gift specifically to Family Literacy Week, Christine Proulx, the company director, emphasized the company was founded on the principal of supporting families and the community, and this guiding pillar was a perfect fit for supporting an event designed specifically for family-based education.

“Supporting literacy is one small but relatively easy way to significantly improve the health of the community and begin to break down barriers,” she noted. “We believe in striving for the healthiest community possible.”

“The investment in these youth…inspiring their curiosity and giving them this opportunity will really make a positive difference in their lives.”

Thanks to Free Rein’s sponsorship, the families enjoyed live performances, interactive displays, and take-away materials that encouraged further learning together at home with a focus on STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math) learning.

One family reported that they were truly thrilled and had a great time; one community literacy coordinator wrote that “the investment in these youth…inspiring their curiosity and giving them this opportunity will really make a positive difference in their lives.”

Based in Hope B.C., Free Rein has been providing employment assistance, training services and resources in collaborative community partnerships since 1993. The company works with individuals to help them become employed and find work within communities in order to enhance or improve the health of the community as a whole.

If you would like to support literacy and learning in British Columbia and become a community literacy champion, please contact:
Gail Hanney at ghanney@decoda.ca or visit www.decoda.ca/support-us.

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