TRURO – Jayne Hunter broke out into a large smile.
She had just heard Literacy Nova Scotia, where she’s the executive director, was chosen as the latest recipient of the 100 Women Who Care Truro’s donation. The December meeting was the 19th for the group, who had given away more than $180,000 in the 18 similar gatherings prior.
Along with Hunter, presenters included Margaret Mulroonery on behalf of the Colchester Historical Society, and Dr. Don Julien, with Mi’kmawey Debert Cultural Centre.
But it was Hunter’s stories of three adult learners that garnered the votes for the donation.
“Thank you for letting me tell you how Literacy Nova Scotia makes a difference in people’s lives, people like Daniel,” Hunter said.
As a teenager, Daniel got in with the wrong crowd and made some bad choices, including dropping out of school. He ended up on assistance, and suffered from depression and anxiety.
“Luckily for Daniel, he had somebody who believed in him,” Hunter explained. “His 91-year-old grandmother encouraged him to return to school. She wanted to see him graduate before she died. This gave Daniel a sense of urgency and he began attending the Adult Learning Program at the Truro campus.”
Hunter said Daniel told her about the day he and his 11-year-old daughter were both doing their high school at the kitchen table.
“His daughter looks over at him and says, ‘Dad, I’m proud of you. How was school today?’ Daniel said that was the first time anyone said they were proud of him in more than 15 years.”
Literacy Nova Scotia assists those returning to learning through scholarships and bursaries, as well as achievement awards. Along with scholarships announced recently, Literacy Nova Scotia handed out 30 achievement awards to learners, and donated $10,000 worth of books through Christmas Daddies, while partnering with First Book Canada.
Literacy Nova Scotia also supports literacy practitioners, ensuring they have the skills and expertise to support those learners in achieving their goals. Last month, the organization hosted a professional development conference for 70 practitioners, and celebrated the graduation of 14 certified instructors through the Nova Scotia Practitioner Training Program.
“People leave school for many reasons and mental illness has a huge impact, whether be addictions, anxiety, or other challenges or disorders,” she Hunter.
Other factors that can disrupt schooling are violence, poverty, illness, pregnancy, and employment. Some leave, said Hunter, because they’re struggling and the teaching methods aren’t working for them.
“So what do I mean when I say literacy? Literacy is about finding information, understanding that information you find, and then using that information. Literacy is a continuum that we’re all on. One hundred years ago, if you could sign your name you were considered literate. Thirty years ago, if you had Grade 9 you were considered literate. And today, even more skills are needed, such as literacy, numeracy, writing, computer skills, working with others, critical thinking, and continuous learning.”
Hunter said all those basic skills help people function in today’s society – they help people get jobs, retain jobs, move on to better jobs making more money, work safer, and be better able to manage their health and wellness.
“Improving literacy reduces poverty, reduces crime, and builds stronger families and safer communities. Fifty per cent of Nova Scotians can benefit from improving their literacy and essential skills. In Colchester County, that’s about 25,000 people. Yet only 250, a mere one per cent, are enrolled in the free adult learning programs in our county,” she said.
Hunter also spoke about Marsha, who now has a good job in health care after returning for her high school diploma and moving on to become a Continuing Care Assistance.
“Literacy changes lives. It’s transformative – we see that every day,” said Hunter. “Lillian told me about the benefits of her learning program. She describes being the shy person with a trembling voice inside, but since taking courses she has more confidence and holds her head up high. Lillian told me that sometimes she has to take a second look in the mirror to see if she’s the same person.”
Hunter told those gathered that their donation, if Literacy Nova Scotia was the successful recipient, would allow the organization to host a book giveaway in Colchester County.
“Last year, we gave out free books for grading day in conjunction with Big Brothers Big Sisters’ anniversary celebration at the RECC. Receiving a brand new book can instill the love of reading at an early age and foster lifelong learning,” she said.