The Decoder – June 2014

From the Desk of Brenda Le Clair

Brenda Reduced

As we enjoy the summer weather, we’re hard at work preparing for big changes coming this fall.

Given several recent cuts to funding in education both provincially and federally, we’re looking for new methods of support to keep our literacy work on track.  Since Decoda Literacy Solutions began, we’ve been relying primarily on government funding to support community-based literacy in our province.  In order to sustain our work in the long run, we’re currently searching for alternative sources of funding.

To raise significant funds and to create a new understanding of literacy for British Columbians, I’m proud to announce that a brand-new initiative, called the Literacy is Life Campaign, will be launched in September.  We strive to have September bring awareness to literacy, just as February raises awareness for the Heart & Stroke Foundation, or October is time to think about UNICEF.

The official kick-off of Literacy is Life is September 3rd, with a media campaign involving our partner, CTV Vancouver, running all month.

You don’t have to wait till September to help us with the campaign!  This summer, you can:

  1. Enter our Literacy is Life “Letter” Contest and win an iPad or Smart Phone for either yourself or your community. The deadline is June 30th (go to for more information).
  2. Share our posts (Facebook) and tweets (Twitter) to all of your networks, using the hashtag #literacyislife for Twitter – enough posts with this hashtag will get our topic trending on the site, raising further awareness of literacy in our online communities.
  3. Send us your literacy success stories so we can show the impact that literacy has, as well as highlight what’s going on in communities across our province.

A supporter appreciation event will be held on September 10th in Vancouver.  At the event, the winner of our Literacy is Life Letters Contest will be announced.  We look forward to working with all of our amazing community partners.

I hope that you’ll take part in Literacy is Life. Stay tuned on our website and social media channels for details as they come!

I want to thank you again for raising the awareness of literacy in your community, and in the process, creating strong individuals, strong families and strong communities.   As always, I encourage you to contact me with any suggestions or comments about our work.



Brenda Le Clair

PS: There’s only one week left to enter our Literacy is Life letter contest! Send us your entry, and you can win an iPad. Finalists also win a trip to Vancouver, and a chance to meet Olympic rower and literacy supporter Darcy Marquardt at the event. I look forward to seeing your entries!



Shining Star of Community Literacy: Charmead Schella

Charmead Schella grew up in the shadow of her father – literally. John Schella was a big, gritty defenseman who played professional hockey for the Vancouver Canucks during the 1970s. As a professional athlete, he was admired and liked by the people in his community…something his daughter is now experiencing by making an impact on her own community through work in literacy.

Charmead is a shining star, and like her father, is loved and admired by her community.  Though she isn’t scoring goals and winning sports games, she’s changing the lives of people…and it’s every bit as impressive as her dad was on the ice.

As daddy’s little girl, Schella was one of those people who admired her father, but ironically it was the one small thing he did wrong that shaped her passion for literacy. “My dad forgot the cardinal rule of English grammar when spelling my legal name: ‘q’s are always followed by a ‘u’. My name is Jacqolin, and I have to spell it for people all of the time because they assume there’s a ‘u.’ This experience has driven my passion for proper grammar and for literacy in general.”

Charmead spent a good portion of her 20s overseas. Her passion for literacy and helping others made her a natural teacher and she flourished at her job teaching ESL. She also put her literacy skills to work as a journalist in a couple of different countries, including Russia! “My experience overseas really helped shape me and my consciousness, and it positioned me well for the climate and human versatility of my community,”  she explains.

She and her husband Chris landed in Port Alberni with the dream of building a hiking and adventure business. While that dream was being built, Charmead had to pay the bills. She turned to her passion – literacy – which after a couple of stops, eventually brought her to the Literacy Alberni Society, where she is now the Executive Director.

Charmead is also the local Literacy Outreach Coordinator for Port Alberni, where she is responsible for overseeing literacy priorities in her community. To say that she cares about literacy, and changing the lives of people in her community, would be an understatement: it only takes one short visit to the Literacy Alberni Society to figure that out.

When you walk into the Society for the first time, you’re greeted with a smile as wide as the Island itself…usually followed by a hug. The Society is located in the heart of Port Alberni, and is a bright light in a small industrial community that is facing several social and economic challenges. In fact, the small Island community was recently named the worst city to live in Canada in MoneySense’s latest annual ranking…although it’s not recommended to bring that up on your next visit.

Known in the 1980s for its pulp and paper prominence, the town flourished, and people made a good living. Times were good. “Back then, you didn’t need a good education or exceptional literacy skills to get by – the mill employed people and industry trumped education,” she explains. Today, the mill is not the employer it used to be, and the community is much different.

While Charmead, and the rest of the community, will be the first to tell you that the “worst city” ranking is a bunch of nonsense, she’s very candid about the challenges that her community faces. “We suffer from low literacy, which leads to a myriad of other problems,” she says. “There is a high rate of teenage pregnancy, there is unemployment, there is crime, there is family instability…and the list goes on.”

While the ‘low literacy’ story is not uncommon in some small industry-based communities across British Columbia, what is uncommon is to have someone that brings the level of empathy, dedication, passion, and professionalism that Charmead brings to literacy in her community.

She has helped numerous people improve their literacy and learning skills and has changed the lives of several individuals. Her stories about the people who come through the Society are inspiring and heartfelt: young adults who have gained employment skills; newly-arrived immigrants who have gained valuable literacy skills; seniors who now connect with the world using social media, and many more.

Schella will be the first to tell you that she is not alone and that she works with some ‘giants’ in the community. “The staff and Board members are amazing and they care as much as I do about the people of Port Alberni. We have amazing community partnerships and great support from our local politicians.”

Spending only one day in “P-dot” – as some of the locals call it – will make anyone agree more with her assessment. And there is no doubt that Schella and her team are making an impact on the community: numerous people have obtained their diplomas, found employment, obtained citizenship, and become more productive members of the community, because of their good work.

Asked where she draws the strength to continue making this type of impact, her answer is simple – her family. Her husband and two children are very supportive of her and her work, and they are active participants in literacy.

But she also told me that she draws inspiration from the people she helps. Schella recalls one story in particular of the little niece of a young learner who brought in $120 donation from her birthday to support literacy because of the recent government cuts to funding. “When things are tough, I think of that little girl’s gesture and I pick right up.”

When asked about the power of literacy, Schella smiles and said “it’s a cliché, but it’s true…literacy gives people hope and empowers them to make changes.” When asked about the people, Charmead’s philosophy is simple.  “Show people what their valuable assets are, so they can go ahead and achieve their literacy goals.”

It’s easy to see why so many people succeed after coming to the Literacy Alberni Society.

Congratulations to Tina Chau, Decoda Librarian! 


Please join us in congratulating our librarian extraordinaire and Read All About Lit blogger, Tina Chau, for her nomination for a Champion for Literacy Award!  She has been nominated as one of Castlegar’s literacy all-stars for her support of community literacy programs by the Columbia Basin Alliance for Literacy (CBAL). Awards will be presented to winners in Castlegar next week.

Tina has worked in Decoda’s library, as well as that of its predecessors, since completing a practicum at the Provincial Resource Centre in 2007. Decoda’s full-service library in our office in Downtown Vancouver is available through the mail to all British Columbians. 

Tina originally worked in a completely unrelated field – as a home economist. In 2004, she decided that she was ready for a new challenge in life. Her interest in library sciences was spurred by a course she enrolled in when she decided to return to school.

“I took one course in library and information technology and was hooked!” she says.

Always willing to help by email, phone and in person, Tina prides herself on the assistance she is able to give to a wide variety of patrons from across the province in both urban and rural areas.

“Since literacy is life, we have resources that include not only literacy in a work context, but literacy at home and in the community,” Tina notes.

She incorporates her unique sense of humour and natural resourcefulness to fulfill requests and answer interesting questions through the library’s “Ask Us” service like “can comic books help with literacy?” (They can!).

Recently, a literacy practitioner contacted her by phone, looking for fiction titles for her learner. “I’d like a little romance,” the practitioner said. Tina quickly answered: “Wouldn’t we all – but we only deal in books!” She was able to help the practitioner find suitable books that her learner ended up enjoying – with minimal romance.

Tina’s commitment to her work and the user-focused nature of the library shows in her ability to find items with only minimal information. She remembers one unusual request in particular that she got by email: “I borrowed a book last year with an orange cover. I’d like to borrow it again.” Using all of her memory recall skills and a bit of detective work, she was able to find the correct book for the patron.

Under Tina’s leadership, the library offers a blog called Read All About Lit which provides readers with useful online and hardcopy resources. She has just started a Pinterest page showing new acquisitions in a graphic-based, interactive format to replace less-engaging text-based lists.

“The library’s strength is in being user-focused, and its success is in getting information into the hands of library users when they need it,” she notes. “It’s particularly rewarding when someone shares how the resources they’ve borrowed have helped them and/or their learners. It’s an honour to be nominated for this award.”

It’s easy to join the Decoda library! Register through the online catalogue or by email.  All we need is your name, email address, mailing address and phone number.  Once you register, you have access to over 5,000 resources about literacy at your fingertips. 

If you reach Tina by phone (604-681-4199 x406), she may sing you a show tune or two!    

Watch for us on the Airwaves this September!

We are thrilled to have one of the premier TV media outlets in British Columbia as partner in our efforts to promote literacy in British Columbia. CTV Vancouver has come on board as our TV media sponsor for the Literacy is Life campaign.  This fall, you will see a moving and powerful campaign on CTV, highlighting the impact that literacy has on people’s lives and how it has benefitted our communities.

As a proud supporter of Decoda, CTV Vancouver is a great believer in literacy. Their generous support will help us raise our profile, reach new audiences, and hopefully raise significant funds to support the continuation of community-based literacy across British Columbia.

CTV Morning Live Anchor Keri Adams will be the new ‘face’ of literacy for Decoda and she will help kick off the month on September 10th as the Emcee at our Literacy is Life Kick-off celebration.  “I am honoured to be part of this important campaign to promote literacy, especially among our young people.   I read with my children every night, and I know it’s a first step towards a lifetime of understanding.  Ensuring that everyone has the resources they need to develop skills at any age is necessary to building a strong and healthy community.“

We thank CTV Vancouver for their initiative and their support of community-based literacy, and are extremely excited about working with the CTV team!

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