The idea behind the Raise-a-Reader campaign is to empower children, adults, seniors and new immigrants with tools to improve reading skills.
This month marks the third year of raising funds to support local literacy programs and activities. Last year — through sponsorship, donations, fundraisers and a newspaper exchange — the Comox Valley raised more than $20,000.
“That was matched by the Ministry of Education for another $10,000,” said Danielle Hoogland, literacy outreach co-ordinator at the Comox Valley Lifelong Learning Association. “We would love to be able to raise that amount again.”
The first two campaigns generated more than $40,000, and the ministry kicked in another $25,000.
“It’s never a guarantee,” Hoogland said of government funding. “It’s incredible bang for our buck. The more we can raise locally the more we can receive from the ministry. We really do a big push this entire month, and every dollar we received in the past has been in part matched. We’re hoping for the same again this year.”
This year, the provincial government has contributed $500,000 to Raise-a-Reader programs around B.C.
“As always, it’s really valuable, not just the monies but raising awareness to make sure the more we read, the younger we read, the more we read to our children is a benefit to everybody,” Comox Valley MLA Don McRae said.
For the past few years, in an effort to encourage children to read during the summer, McRae has purchased books for a discount price from the Laughing Oyster Book Shop and donated them to kindergarten classes at the end of the school year. But the former teacher understands, too, the importance of ensuring people of all ages continue to read and strengthen their reading skills.
There’s an economic benefit associated with reading and writing skills. According to the Movement for Canadian Literacy, a one per cent increase in average literacy scores would generate $18 billion in yearly economic growth in Canada. Conversely, lower rates of employment and criminal activity are generally linked to low proficiencies in literacy.
“There’s a lot of shame when people can’t read, and a lot of secrecy,” said Lynn Moseley, executive director at the Comox Valley Adult Learning Centre. “If they have trouble with reading, they’ll use an excuse…They’ve had this secret their whole life that they can’t read very well and want to improve their reading. It’s something you take for granted. A lot of people are functionally illiterate.”
In B.C., according to the Auditor-General, one in four children is developmentally vulnerable when entering kindergarten, and one student in five is not completing high school in the expected time.
Statistics also indicate about 40 per cent of adults in B.C. struggle to read a newspaper, fill out a work application form or understand a lease.
“It’s not a black and white issue,” Hoogland said. “We don’t even talk about illiteracy anymore because all people have some level of literacy skills. What I’m always amazed about is how people find strategies to hide their challenge. Their coping skills are phenomenal.”
While Lifelong Learning focuses on families and youth, the Adult Learning Centre provides one-on-one tutoring for clients, many of whom are seniors. Campaign funds support programs such as beginner reading, writing, math and computer classes. Funding has also supported a financial literacy program and English as a Second Language.
“We work with people on their conversational English, instead of teaching them grammar,” Moseley said. “The grammar comes after you know the language.”
The Adult Learning Centre receives one-third of Raise-a-Reader proceeds and Lifelong Learning two-thirds. The last two campaigns have generated about $25,000 for the former.
This year’s campaign kicked off on ‘Throwback Thursday’ Sept. 3 at the Prime Chophouse and Wine Bar.
Raise-a-Reader Day is Wednesday, Sept. 23. The day begins with a by-donation pancake breakfast from 10-11 a.m. in the parking lot at Fifth and England in downtown Courtenay. Hoogland advises to come at 10 a.m. because they might run out of pancakes. After breakfast, volunteers in orange T-shirts will hit the streets in Cumberland, Courtenay and Comox between 11 a.m. and noon to distribute special edition newspapers, in exchange for a donation.
“If folks feel inclined to give a donation, that’s fantastic,” Hoogland said.
The campaign culminates on Thursday, Sept. 24 at the Literacy for Life trivia night at the Prime from 6-10 p.m.
There are various ways to be involved in the campaign. Sponsorship packages are available.
Donate at www.raiseareader.com/donate. Click on ‘Comox Valley’ under Fund/Designation.
Donations can also be mailed or dropped off at the Courtenay, Comox or Cumberland libraries. Make cheques payable to Comox Valley Lifelong Learning Association.
For more information, contact Naz Dizai at 250-615-6516 or firstname.lastname@example.org.