Cathy Graham, program manager for the Orillia and District Literacy Council, has been with the charity organization for 21 years. Her main goals are to raise literacy awareness, reduce stigma and raise funds to keep it going.
So much more than learning to read
Graham said her main goal is to increase awareness of what the Orillia and District Literacy Council offers.
“There are so many people out there who don't understand what we do or don't think to come here,” she said. “There are so many more things that we do.”
She said, helping individuals build up these basic skills, like reading, writing, and mathematics, increases business productivity, reduces the number of people on assistance and can even impact incarceration rates and health and nutrition.
“So many people now seem to be diabetic, and if they can't read the label, and they can't understand what they're supposed to be looking for, then they're going to end up at the hospital,” Graham said.
“Statistics show that almost 80 per cent of the people in jail have less than grade 12 education. Because they don't have that piece of paper, that limits the jobs they can do and the programs they can participate in.”
Break the stigma
She said we need to start talking about adult literacy. Because of the stigma around literacy, many people don’t ask for help.
“All the excuses ‘Oh, I forgot my glasses’ or, ‘I’ll take it home and talk to my wife,’ or whatever. The excuses people come up with are coping mechanisms and help them get around letting people know that they struggle to read.”
She said many of her students could read, but they might not read well, and because of the stigma, they are ashamed and embarrassed to ask for help.
Keeping it practical
Now, the Orillia and District Literacy Council has a big focus on teaching employability and life skills, like money, math and basic computer skills.
“We try to make everything life-related. So we're not just teaching you how to multiply just because we want to teach you how to multiply. We're teaching you that because you will use it in your life. So everything we do is task-based, always with a real-life practical application.”
For example, a computer course teaches adults how to work with computers, but the result is being able to search for jobs online.
“If they want to be able to make a budget and stick to it and do their own grocery shopping—those are the tasks. The skills involved are how to add, subtract, multiply, divide, read and comprehend. You know, all these skills are involved in being able to do that.
A feast for learning
The Orillia and District Literacy Council has an event coming up this September 8 called Feast for Learning. A $25 ticket will get you a roast beef dinner and access to a silent auction. All money raised will help support literacy programs in the community.
Graham said the fundraiser helps increase the types of classes and services they can provide. A good portion of their annual budget is covered by funds raised at events like this.
“It's an awareness event created to let people know we're here and what we do. It's also a fundraiser,” she said. “It's nice that we can go out in person again and get together to support our favourite charities.”
For Feast for Learning tickets, call 705-327-1253 or purchase the tickets online.