“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 firstname.lastname@example.org.