Funding slashed for literacy services

102 community-based literacy organizations across B.C. affected, including one in Maple Ridge

Jennifer Smith (left) tutors Shelby Abell at the Maple Ridge library on Tuesday.

Jennifer Smith (left) tutors Shelby Abell at the Maple Ridge library on Tuesday.

A literacy group in Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows is having its operations threatened by B.C. government funding cuts.

Victoria has slashed last year’s $2.5 million to community adult literacy groups down to $1 million. There will be 102 organizations across the province affected.

Of that $2.5 million for the province, $30,000 flowed to the local Maple Ridge Pitt Meadows Katzie Literacy Committee to help coordinate literacy services. Now it will be cut to $13,000.

“These cuts are very upsetting and damaging,” said chair Jessie Hill. “And we are now examining if we can continue to serve the community in a meaningful way.”

In the Maple Ridge library on Tuesday morning, literacy volunteer tutor Jennifer Smith was sitting down with Shelby Abell.

Abell, a single mom, goes to Riverside Centre for high school upgrading, with a view to college and a career.

She graduated in 2002, and in returning to high school, she struggled at first.

“It was hard,” she said. “But having a tutor makes a big difference. It keeps me focussed.”

Smith is a stay-at-home mom who had been looking for an opportunity to volunteer.

“Just to stay connected with the community,” she explained. “Of all the things I could volunteer my time to, this seemed the most useful.”

The two women have become friends, and Smith has become familiar with how the local literacy committee can stretch a dollar. She says the government is being penny wise, but pound foolish.

“I think the cuts are extremely shortsighted. Whatever they’re saving, they’ll spend 10 times more down the line,” said Smith.

Abell receives the benefits first hand, and is appreciative.

“Not having this program would affect me,” said Abell. “This is a great program.”

Amidst the growing outcry against the cuts, some of the province’s longest-running literacy organizations have announced they will close their doors when the funding runs out because of the reductions, said Elaine Yamamoto, the literacy outreach facilitator for the local literacy committee.

The local committee started work three years ago. In addition to the tutoring, it has begun two adult-learner book clubs, and ESL women’s group and drop-in literacy services at the Learning Room.

Yamamoto said the committee has created partnership initiatives, from which they have distributed 6,000 new children’s books for low-income families, and Preschool Literacy Explorer Kits.

She said the group is careful with its funds, and an excellent example of that is the new Book Bin project.

The group got wood donated for 10 bins, then a student at Samuel Robertson Technical built the boxes for a nominal honorarium.

The bins have been placed at coffee shops, hospital waiting rooms and other areas, and people are invited to take them home, read them, and later return them.

“We are a frugal, frugal group,” said Yamamoto.

The exact impact of the cuts will not be known, but it is bad news for a group that already faces challenges in funding good programs.

“It’s less than half, and that funding is like core funding that groups can use to build out and leverage more funding and in-kind funding,” said Yamamoto. “It’s been a core we could count on.”

The funding was also cut in the last B.C. budget, but was reinstated later during the year.

This year, the group remained optimistic that it would not have reduced funding, because the Legislative Select Standing Committee on Finance and Government Services made a recommendation to provide stable funding of $2.5 million.

The funds flow to a group called Decoda Literacy Solutions, and on to the network of 102 community-based literacy organizations.

Adult tutoring

The Community Adult Literacy program recently completed training 10 new volunteers, who can provide one-on-one tutoring. To access adult tutoring call Yamamoto at 604-721-3738 or email al@communityliteracy.ca.