Where were you 40 years ago? I was starting grade 9 at W.C.Eaket Secondary School. I was a nervous “minor niner”. Even the thoughts of my older family members blazing the trail for me at high school, didn’t ease my nerves. My new “back-to-school” outfit and haircut didn’t give me confidence. I was going to high school. This was a whole new world for me.
40 years ago a group of concerned people got together because they realized that there were many adults in our community needing help with basic reading, writing and math skills. A program at Canadore College to help lower level readers had its funding cut but the need was still there and there were people eager to learn. Canadore College president, Murray Hewgill gave John Brock, who was the director of Adult Training, the job of finding a program that Canadore could sponsor and help. Joan Sharman a Canadore staff person at the time said the Laubach workshop was chosen because it was the best material and gave better information to untrained volunteers than any other method. This was the start of The North Bay Literacy Council now known as Literacy Nipissing.
These initial volunteers trained tutors, worked with adults and started to see changes in people’s lives. I have only been at this agency for 5 years but I have heard stories that tug at my heart constantly. I heard of one lady who saw Jane Jackson at a store and ran over to tell her that she could now read her divorce papers and now she knew she wasn’t being taken advantage. I heard another story of a learner who only knew how to spell his name when he walked in our door. He couldn’t read or write anything else. Soon he was learning to read and write and he was amazed how smart he really was. Another gentleman learned to write and then wrote his life story so that his children and grandchildren would have a record after he was gone. I have heard of people improving their skills to the point where they could retain a full time job or help their children with their homework. One young lady worked very hard and has now completed her third college program.
I know that I have not heard all the stories of triumphant, which might be a good thing. We are running out of tissue here!!!! But these stories do inspire us every day. A while ago, we calculated that we have worked with over 5000 students in 4o years. We have had over 2000 volunteers donate countless hours to help these learners. And the last thing that we counted was the approximate number of hours that were spent in learning. As far as we can calculate (and we are pretty good at math…) there has been over 1/2 million hours of learning in 40 years. Unbelievable!!! One learner told me that when he first came here he walked up the steps, turned around and went back down the steps. He got to the bottom of the steps and told himself to get back up the steps and walk through the door. That change of direction changed his life. I have two words to describe these learners – courageous and determined. And the proof of that is these 1/2 million hours put into their learning.
As I think about the legacy of The North Bay Literacy Council/ Literacy Nipissing, I wonder if those initial volunteers knew the impact that they would have on our community. I wonder if they ever imagined that 40 years later the agency would still be here and thriving. I wonder if our volunteers really understand the change they have helped make in the lives of so many adults. AND… I wonder if those 5000 learners know how proud we are of them for taking that first step to improve their lives.
I can’t wait to see what is next!!