In Celebration of our Volunteers

National Volunteer Week

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“Why are you doing this when you’re not getting paid?”

It was the same question our volunteer tutor had heard the three weeks previous, as he settled in for another math session at the local coffee shop. The adult learner he was working with couldn’t believe he would show up week after week purely to help him reach his employment goals, without asking for anything in return.

“What motivates you to volunteer with us?”

It’s a question I too like to ask our volunteers. It’s inspiring to hear the passion in their voices as they talk about making a difference, giving back, their desire to see individuals and families succeed. They also speak about the deep satisfaction they receive from helping others to reach their goals—whether that’s helping a parent to gain new skills as their child’s first teacher, understanding the letters coming home from their child’s school, passing their driver’s test, deciphering a medicine label, or simply gaining the confidence and skills to fill in important forms for themselves.

Last year, 237 Centre for Family Literacy volunteers invested over 9,300 hours in our work to build, develop and improve literacy with families in Edmonton. Their behind-the-scenes commitments included board and committee work, assisting with Family Literacy programs, facilitating Adult Literacy Classes, tutoring one-on-one, office support and fundraising events. Their collective impact was extraordinary!

April 10 to 16 is National Volunteer Week, a time to celebrate and thank Canada’s 12.7 million volunteers. We would like to take this moment to express our gratitude especially to our volunteers with the Centre for Family Literacy. Whether they’ve just joined our volunteer team, or served with us over twenty years, together we are working to foster a healthy, literate society where we are all able to contribute and succeed.

Volunteer Canada put it beautifully: “Volunteers are the roots of strong communities. Just like roots are essential for trees to bloom, volunteers are essential for communities to boom. Thanks to volunteers, our communities grow strong and resilient. Even the tiniest volunteer effort leaves a profound and lasting trace in a community, much like tree rings that appear over time.”

Why are you doing this?”

If you want to be inspired, put this question to a volunteer. Then watch them light up. Better yet, find that niche in the community where your passion and skills will enhance the lives of others while also enriching yours, and volunteer! www.govolunteer.ca

Creating a Sense of Belonging: the Learner Club

One on one tutoring presents both opportunities and challenges to adult learners, who need flexibility of time and space for their learning. While one on one tutoring opens up access for adult learners, it can create a sense of isolation and fewer ties to other learners. The concept of a learner club at the Centre for Family Literacy was shaped out of the need to create a sense of community and belonging among these learners and connection to the Centre.

The main goal for the Learner Club is to create a forum that allows for interaction between learners, where they feel accepted, respected and supported.

At the learner club, learners:

  • meet and connect with other learners
  • learn while having fun
  • find out about resources in the community
  • and share a light supper.

So far, we have had four successful Learner Clubs, and we have discussed:

  • health Issues
  • municipal Issues
  • poetry writing
  • and tips for travel outside of Canada.

The Learner Clubs have been well received and participation has ranged from 8-14 learners. Learners have given positive feedback after each meeting and have indicated that they have enjoyed the Learner Club because they:

  • learn many interesting things
  • get to know one another
  • learn about other cultures
  • eat good food
  • have fun
  • get to spend time with their friends
  • feel safe and comfortable
  • do not feel judged
  • find the Staff at the Centre warm and welcoming
  • and can express themselves freely.

The last Learner Club, which took place on January 22, 2014, was unique in the sense that it was held on the eve of the Leading with Literacy Breakfast, where the Lois Hole Memorial Literacy Awards are presented. We took the opportunity to talk about the event and to recognize and congratulate the learner who was going to receive the 2014 award in the Adult Learner category the following morning. It was exciting to note that four out of the 14 participants at the Learner Club that evening were past recipients of the same award. With interest I observed as former recipients offered words of advice and encouragement to the 2014 recipient, who was stricken by the idea of making a speech in acceptance of the award.

The 2013 award winner advised her to write and rehearse the speech, the 2011 winner suggested that she avoid eye contact, and the 2008 recipient wished her luck and advised her to make it short and sweet. During the discussion, the former recipients reiterated that the award was a strong motivation for them to continue participation in the literacy activities at the Centre. “We see ourselves as champions”, said the 2011 recipient.

In the Learner Club, study is learner initiated. We encourage learners to share their views and experiences in a trusting and open environment. The learners themselves suggested all the topics of interest and discussion.

Some of the topics suggested for future discussion were:

  • citizenship and immigration issues
  • fraud
  • obtaining a drivers’ license
  • filling out forms
  • and job application and preparation for job interviews.

The Learner Club opens doors so that participants can actively learn new things. For example, in the last Learner Club, a learner who is a monk from Laos made a presentation he entitled “Lao, the Heart of East Asia,” in which he animatedly talked about the attractions in his home country.

This was followed by an interesting presentation on “tips for travel outside of Canada” by one of our tutors. I noted with interest the learners’ excitement when they asked questions and shared their views on the topic, while some shared funny and memorable travel experiences.

The evening ended on a high note with the group singing our popular piece:

The more we get together, together, together
The more we get together the happier we’ll be.
Then my friends are your friends
and your friends are my friends 
the more we get together the happier we’ll be…

We are excited about the Learner Clubs because we create a space where learners come together and mix naturally, get to know one another, grow in confidence, and truly know that they are not alone in their situations.

Our next Club will take place on February 26, 2014.

We welcome everyone.

 

Success Stories from our Adult Tutor Program

Three months ago, I was privileged to become part of the Centre for Family Literacy team as Coordinator of the Volunteer Program. In my role, I have the pleasure of getting to know some of the most generous people I know – people who make space in their often busy lives to give of themselves to make a difference in someone else’s life. Many of our volunteers have committed to work with us as tutors, meeting weekly with an adult learner who is eager to improve their reading, writing or math skills.

In the short time I’ve been here, I’ve already encountered more success stories than I can recount here. For example, the learner from China who had made up her mind to return to her home country when her children got older. But through her work with one of our tutors, her love grew for English and for Canadians and she decided instead to stay. Or the learner who dropped out of high school to work, but was discouraged when he discovered he could not read and write well enough to get a good job. While he worked with his tutor he began to enjoy books, read the newspaper with comprehension, and believe in himself. Now he is studying at NAIT.

Many of our learners are no longer coming to the Centre because they have achieved their goals: entering the workforce, passing difficult exams, or reading with ease to their children and grandchildren. Thanks to their tutors, they have each grown not only in skill but also in confidence. Perhaps one of the most rewarding transitions I’ve observed is seeing adults who came to us as learners and are now volunteering as tutors themselves. What a beautiful picture of ‘giving back.’

Several of our tutors have nominated their students for a Lois Hole Award. These awards recognize an outstanding individual who has shown a commitment to his or her own learning. Here is how one of our nominated learners is described by her tutor:

“She is one of the bravest people I know. Her long-term goal is to go to NAIT to take banking and business to improve her employment prospects. In order to enhance her English skills, she is working in a Dollar Store as well as supervising grade five students on their lunch break. She often endures harassment from the customers in the Dollar Store when she cannot understand quickly enough or is unsure of how to handle a situation. Yet her determination to reach her goal is undiminished. She goes to the store for each of her shifts and does her best, hoping to improve her English sufficiently to be accepted at NAIT.

She is always smiling and she never hesitates to give me a warm welcome when I arrive. She is usually at the Centre before I am, and I will find her working on homework for either our class or another one that she is taking. She is willing to try new approaches to learning and often asks me to help with work she does not understand in other classes.

She has made a great deal of progress in speaking, reading, and writing English since our first lesson. Her determination to learn more, her high intelligence and her unflagging optimism should enable her to meet her goals.”

We recently published a collection of similar success stories from our Adult Tutor program.  If, like me, you can never hear too many of these stories, feel free to request your own copy of Life Changing Stories from the Centre for Family Literacy here:  volunteer_coordinator@famlit.ca

 

Our Library is Waiting to be Discovered

Tucked away in a corner of a light industrial business park in west Edmonton is a gem of a library for beginning adult readers and their tutors. This small, specialized library (3,522 items) is cosily housed at the Centre for Family Literacy (CFL). In it you will find a section of workbooks, specifically written for adult learners, that explain and offer practice in phonics, grammar, vocabulary, spelling, composition, comprehension and fluency – all of the skills that must be mastered in order for one to learn to read fluently. These particular workbooks are not found in the Edmonton Public Library.

Especially good is The Active Reader, a series of workbooks from Foundations to Level 5 focussed on reading and writing, written by Linda Kita-Bradley and published by Grass Roots Press in Edmonton. Each book contains articles, with photographs, on five broad subjects – people, relationships, health and safety, the environment and significant Canadian historic events and people. They are up to date, relevant and engaging.

Across the aisle from the workbooks is the fiction section. We have over 1,330 novels on our shelves. The reading levels of the books range from F1 to F9 (approximately equivalent to grade levels). Most of the novels have been specially written with the adult literacy learner in mind. Vocabulary is basic, sentences are short and the page count is lower than mainstream fiction. Good Reads and Rapid Reads books are well-written, engrossing mysteries for the middle level reader. Gail Anderson-Dargatz, Louise Penny, Deborah Ellis (Good Reads) and Gail Bowen, Richard Wagamese, and Medora Sale (Rapid Reads) are just a few of the writers in these series.

I love what Neil Gaiman says about fiction and why he thinks it is important:

“Fiction has two uses. Firstly, it’s a gateway drug to reading. The drive to know what happens next, to want to turn the page, the need to keep going, even if it’s hard, because someone’s in trouble and you have to know how it’s all going to end . . . that’s a very real drive. And it forces you to learn new words, to think new thoughts, to keep going. To discover that reading per se is pleasurable. Once you learn that, you’re on the road to reading everything. And reading is key.”

The second thing that happens when we read fiction, according to Gaiman, is that it builds empathy. When we read fiction, we see through others’ eyes; we experience events that are worlds away, far from our own experience, our own time, place, and gender. Reading fiction changes us, he says. Read the whole article:

http://www.theguardian.com/books/2013/oct/15/neil-gaiman-future-libraries-reading-daydreaming

There are also sections on mathematics, science, the trades, life skills, and resources for tutors. One shelf is devoted to workbooks written for English Language Learners. Workbooks and audio tapes geared to the GED, IELTS, and TOEFL exams are popular. The non-fiction section contains a little of everything.

You will even find a small Aboriginal section. Books on the Métis people are currently highlighted, as this is Métis Week (November 11-16). For more information about the Métis in Alberta, link to: http://www.albertametis.com/MNAHome/Home.aspx

How the Library Works

Tutors and learners are given library cards. Both get a tour of the library when they come to the CFL for their initial interviews. As well, during the tutor training sessions, tutors learn how to access the library on the computers at the Centre.

When a new tutor and learner have been matched, they meet in the library at the CFL. The tutor has a sheet with information about the learner and some suggestions about what workbooks might be appropriate. But these are only suggestions. Over time as the tutor and learner come to know each other, as conversations become easy and trust develops, learners explain their reasons for wanting to learn and their goals. Sometimes the goals are specific; a learner may want to be able to read the Alberta Driver’s Handbook in order to get a driver’s license. Others may want to upgrade and work toward their GED. Perhaps the goal is to speak and write English clearly.

Together learner and tutor take the beginning steps towards the goal. And there, right next to them is the library, filled with hundreds of adventure stories and mysteries just waiting to be read. Workbooks that build the skills underlying fluent reading, or explain the basics of mathematics, are within reach. They are all doorways to knowledge, to expanded horizons, and to the sheer pleasure and escape of getting lost in a book – of being someone else, of being transported to other worlds and other times.

The library, the whole world, is waiting to be discovered.

A Learner’s Story

A few years before I came to the Centre For Family Literacy, my girlfriend gave me a flyer for the Centre with the phone number on it, but I did nothing about it. One day, my 7 year old daughter and I were reading a book and I had trouble making out the words. My daughter made fun of me. I decided to call the Centre and make an appointment to see someone. Whenever I tried to read I would get frustrated and give up. I tried to read in front of people once and they made fun of me because I could not make out the words. I knew that not being able to read was holding me back in life. Going to meet my tutor was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done! The first few sessions with my tutor were nerve wracking! It took a few sessions to learn to relax. When my tutor asked me to write the days of the week and the 12 months we realized I could not do cursive writing. One of the reasons I learned how to read is so I could learn how to use the computer and new technology. I went from a Level one to Level six in one year and won the Lois Hole Adult Literacy award. Reading has helped me in many ways. I now can understand work orders and use the computer to help fix my vehicles. I enjoy surfing the “net”. It’s nice to be able to look at instructions and figure them out on your own instead of waiting for someone else to help you out. I remember how I used to struggle looking for addresses in the city. Now, I take reading for granted because I don’t even remember all the struggles I used to have… but there are still more mountains to climb.

K.G.

My Place

This story was written by a member of The Book Club program at the Centre for Family Literacy.

My Place

Big tall trees circle around the strong house. As I walk up to the steps, I see my bay window that bends around the side of the house. I open the heavy door and sit on a soft ledge. I sit with my best blanket. I hear the loud crackling sounds in the fireplace. Holding a big cup of hot tea in my hands, I watch the rain hit the window and run down the window panes. Lightening makes loud sounds. I have soft music on. Being by myself, I have my best friend- a big beige Retriever lying on my lap. I watch the rain run down the window and hear the drops. I smell the wet grass and see the rain wash the flowers. Birds shake the water off their feathers. I am by myself with my thoughts.

Isabelle