Shawn Richards: In His Own Words

In 2010, the PGI Learner Achievement Tribute Award, which honours academic progress and personal growth in adult learners, was given to Shawn Richards of Nanaimo. Shawn received a monetary prize and a $250 library from Greystone Books, and a matching library for his school. Here is Shawn’s story in his own words:

I am pleased to share how my journey into literacy is changing my life.

From grades 1 to 6 I was held back twice, then put into grade 8 with no introduction into high school. I really hated my first year of high school with all the learning disabilities. I lived in fear I would be centered out in the large class. Eventually I found myself so far behind soon I quit going all together. The other students were lost like me and we suppressed all feelings with drugs and alcohol.

The rest of my life was spent doing manual labor; this was all I could do with limited knowledge and skills. My suppression of how my life was turning out frustrated me and I gave up on the mainstream of life. I felt there was no one in my corner. My addiction to drugs was the band-aid to my fears. My problems only got worse. I was homeless for years and incarcerated for a while. There seemed to be no bottom to my life.

Early in 2008 I finally asked a street nurse to help me get into a treatment centre. During the intake they asked me if I could I read and write. I was scared to tell them I was unable to do either very well. When they found out, I was treated in a way that demoralized me and I left.

After I left the center I stayed clean and sober, but did not know what to do or where to turn. Luckily that street nurse, a close friend to this day, told me he believed in me and found me a John Howard Society safe house. They showed me I could learn to cope with my addiction problems and start to repair my life from the ground up.

The John Howard counsellor lent me his personal recovery books on tapes. They were easy to listen to instead of struggling with reading and things got a bit easier.

The counsellor also suggested I go to Literacy Nanaimo. I was like a nervous child waiting to talk to a total stranger and ask for help reading books that I hoped would help save my life. I told the tutor coordinator at Literacy Nanaimo I was looking for help reading a book on recovering from alcoholism. She was so interested in me, I will never forget her for the kindness she showed me that day. I was assessed and then assigned my first of two tutors. Working on the basics, things were coming back out of nowhere. I was starting to remember what I was reading.

Then my tutor coordinator asked me about finishing school up at V.I.U. Once again I felt my eyes heavy with water and thought wow they believe in me. Most of my life I did not believe in myself. And with their help I got a good start in a great program up at V.I.U. Today I’m challenging myself in school, took an introduction course in counseling, and have been blessed with a part time job with Canadian Mental Health. I really like my work, because I work with people who I know from the streets of Nanaimo.

I will end with saying that I got a second chance because people took the time to believe in me, and for that I am grateful and today I believe that I can make a difference by helping others help themselves.

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