The Decoder – September 2014

From the Desk of Brenda Le Clair


I am extremely proud to announce the launch of our inaugural Literacy is Life month!

As mentioned in my last message to you, we’ve been busy preparing for an exciting September for the literacy community – and the time has finally come! On September 3rd, we launched our Literacy is Life Campaign with an amazing flashmob event in Downtown Vancouver.

The Literacy is Life Campaign will coincide with a variety of other events – such as International Literacy Day and Raise-a-Reader Day – in an effort to raise awareness of the importance of literacy and raise funds to support community-based literacy programs and initiatives across British Columbia.

Literacy is important to all British Columbians because it impacts every aspect of our lives: healthcare, crime rates, employment and economic status. However, despite its essential role in life, a surprising 40 per cent of B.C. adults have difficulty reading a newspaper, filling out a work application form, reading a map, or understanding a residential lease. The Literacy is Life Campaign will remind people that literacy skills are important if one is to succeed in today’s modern world.

It’s time to take action! You are an essential part in the campaign’s success. There are a number of ways you can do your part to ensure that literacy is top of mind for all British Columbians in September:

  1. You and your family can participate in literacy activities together.
  2. You can hold your own fundraising event or join our Team Trivia Challenge – donations to our event will be matched by the Chimp Foundation for the month of September.
  3. You can show your support by signing our Literacy Manifesto.
  4. You can check out our social media channels (Facebook & Twitter) and use the hashtag #literacyislife
  5. You can make a donation directly to the Decoda Literacy Foundation.

As you may have seen in the news this past spring, community-based programs are in jeopardy due to recent cuts to literacy funding in B.C. and Canada, and the literacy community as a whole has been affected.  Most recently, Literacy Victoria, one of the longest-running organizations in our province and a pillar in the community, has had to close its doors as of August 31st.

Although we invested $2.5 million into communities across the province last year to improve literacy and learning across the province, we cannot continue to grow and strengthen without your help. We must find ways other than solely relying on government funding to sustain our work and meet the growing literacy needs of British Columbians.

Visit now for more information on more ways you can get involved and be on the lookout for our campaign on CTV, your local radio station, and in print media. Together, we are building strong individuals, strong families and strong communities – your investment is changing many lives.

Thank you in advance for your support!

As always, I encourage you to contact me with any suggestions or comments about our campaign and our work.



Brenda Le Clair



From the Field: Lifelong Educator Joan Exley
Joan Exley in the new space in Nelson's city hall. Photo by Chris Shepherd.

Joan Exley started out as a volunteer adult tutor 15 years ago and has since become one of the most influential people in the community-based literacy landscape in British Columbia.

A lifelong learner and educator, Joan has been in the game a long time. She studied special education and she enjoyed a career as an elementary school teacher, but she always knew that it was a stepping stone to something else…something bigger, as it turns out.

Joan is one of those rare people you find in your community that is selfless and giving to the point where helping others trumps her own personal needs. Over the years she has given back to her community in spades, volunteering with the deaf and the disabled, and of course she gives her time to adult literacy as a Literacy Outreach Coordinator, where she thrives.

“I began volunteering for the adult literacy program because I am passionate about learning and I am committed to giving back to my community,” she explained. Volunteering and giving back was and still is something Joan wanted to model for her children. “I had small children and it was a great way to express that side of myself at that time in my life. I had no idea it would lead to where I am now.”

Joan is now is one of the most respected literacy practitioners in the field. She has been an integral part of growing community-based literacy in the Kootenays over the years. In fact she played a key role in forming the Columbia Basin Alliance for Literacy (CBAL), an organization that promotes literacy and lifelong learning throughout 77 communities across the region.

As the Literacy Outreach Coordinator in Nelson, Joan also played a key role in creating The Learning Place, a literacy centre where locals can find programs ranging from children and family to adult learners to senior’s computer classes.

Having grown up with her own literacy challenges, Joan has an innate ability to relate to the people she works with and tutors. “I grew up as a struggling reader in a family of strong readers and well-educated people,” she says. “I feel like I can relate to these people and really understand what they are going through because of my own experience.”

It is because of the support and passion of people like Joan that community-based literacy is making a difference in Nelson and across the province: she is a teacher, a mentor, a learner, a colleague, a cheerleader, and an advocate. Joan believes in the philosophy that “… we are stronger together than we are apart.” And anyone who has worked with her can attest to this fact.

“I feel like we make an impact every day. Sometimes it is small and quiet. Sometimes it is loud and powerful.” When you look at what she has accomplished for literacy, we believe Joan’s work is always loud and powerful!

Steven Mulvey: Success Through Literacy


Steven Mulvey has had challenges with literacy his entire life. From an early age, he was not interested in reading of any kind and he struggled to keep up in class, which, like most people, caused him to get discouraged. His discouragement showed through in the classroom and eventually he was held back and then moved into a special class. For a lot of people who deal with literacy challenges, this pattern is hard to recover from, but not for Steven. 

Growing up in Port Alberni, Steven was like any other kid. He was active, easygoing, filled with dreams and aspirations and he had plans.

“I always wanted to do something creative,” he says with a smile on his face. “I really like working with my hands.”

But Steven struggled with literacy and he continuously tested below average for reading and writing. This had an impact on his confidence and his self-esteem.

Steven started to act out in school and soon found himself getting into mischief; nothing serious, but enough to land him in hot water with several teachers and school officials. Before he knew it, he was being passed along through the system on his way to graduation.

Like others in his position, Steven found ways around his reading and writing challenges, which eventually got him through school.  He received his high school diploma – but Steven did not gain the literacy skills he needed to succeed in today’s modern world.  He actually graduated with a high school diploma that he could not read!

As he moved to the next chapter in his life, Steven found himself working – as he put it – in “mind-numbing jobs. I hated what I was doing, but I also knew my options were limited. I became frustrated.” But unlike the destructive behaviour that resulted in high school, Steven turned his frustration into determination and he came up with a plan. “I heard about Literacy Alberni Society so I walked in there one day and said ‘I need help.’”

As part of the intake process at the Literacy Alberni Society, Steven had an assessment done. Amazingly, after graduating with a diploma from high school, Steven was assessed at a grade three reading level. “I wasn’t surprised; I knew I had trouble reading. But it didn’t faze me. I was determined to make this work.” Steven was paired with a literacy volunteer and so began his journey.

After two years of working with the volunteer on a one-to-one basis, Steven had the confidence he needed to apply for his welding apprenticeship. He was accepted into the program and has since graduated. His newfound confidence pushed him to get his diving certificate and he has also gone on to getting his Occupational Level III First Aid certification. Not too bad for a young man who just two years earlier was reading at a grade three level!

Steven has a message for Literacy Alberni and his tutor: “Thank you!”

He also has a message to others in his position and it is simple: “If you are willing to work for it, there are people and programs out there willing to help.”

Donor Spotlight: Eton College

We are very thankful to have a growing list of community champions for literacy.

Eton College, a post-secondary institution in Vancouver, has shown an exceptional commitment to community literacy in British Columbia by supporting Decoda’s month-long Literacy is Life campaign.

“We strongly believe that no one should be left behind for lack of an opportunity for education,” says John Brouwer, Eton College Principal. “We are committed to a vision of healthy, happy and literate individuals who can contribute to the success of the communities that they live in.”

Eton College administrators have been actively encouraging students to volunteer in literacy-related activities around the Vancouver area through creating their own campaign, Jump for Literacy, which currently appears on their website and on social media.  Also, all students recently listened intently to an introductory talk by Decoda staff member Diana Twiss about community literacy and the role that they could play in propelling literacy rates upwards.

In addition to providing volunteers for various Literacy is Life events throughout September, the college is the title sponsor for our upcoming campaign launch on September 10th.

“We are extremely proud to enlist a literacy champion that has already shown such strong initiative in the community for literacy and learning,” says Brenda Le Clair. “Eton College is setting an example to other area organizations interested in creating an impact.”

Eton encourages others to join in supporting literacy across the province. “We thrive on instilling a passion for lifelong learning,” Brouwer notes. “We’re excited to work closely with Decoda…as advocates for literacy.”

To find out how to become a community champion for literacy, contact Gail Hanney at or visit

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