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A community literacy society with an Okanagan College instructor as president has been given a national award for its work in the Shuswap.
The Literacy Alliance of the Shuswap Society was presented with the Council of Federation Literacy Award by Shuswap MLA George Abbott earlier this month.
“Just to be recognized as a society for the hard work we have done is wonderful,” said society president and Adult Education instructor Rene Dahms, who has taught literacy at Okanagan College’s Salmon Arm campus for more than eight years.
The Council of the Federation, made up of the nation’s premiers, created the award in 2004 to be handed out annually to organizations or individuals in each of the 13 provinces and territories.
In granting the award the council acknowledged the wide range of programs the Society offers, from the One-to-One Literacy Program where more than 200 community volunteers assist youngsters in 15 schools, to the innovative PAWsitive Reading program that features Moby, a St. John Ambulance Therapy Dog that assists children in reading aloud.
“Receiving this award is a big thing for us,” said Jennifer Findlay, literacy outreach coordinator with LASS. “We’re fairly new on the literacy scene and we’ve created a lot of programs and had amazing community support.”
LASS launched in 2007 following a series of community meetings, with numerous agencies, including the Okanagan Regional Library, North Okanagan Shuswap School District and the College playing vital roles.
“It’s been nice to be able to work with both those in both the schools and the College,” Findlay said. “Our programs start with little babies and go all the way up seniors.”
Dahms said the College was also able to assist with early funding.
“Okanagan College was a big partner and it if hadn’t been for the College, we wouldn’t have been able to apply for funding in those early days, and probably wouldn’t be here today,” she said.
Working with adults at the College, Dahms said there are many situations that can lead to a lack in literacy, even among today’s twenty-somethings.
“The students may have finished Grade 12, but they may have been in a modified program, so they don’t have strong academic skills,” she said. “In other cases, reading isn’t valued in their families so they haven’t had the opportunity to work on their skills, and then sometimes school itself isn’t valued either.”
Dahms said even though some blame today’s high-tech society for replacing reading time with screen time, the irony is it takes considerable literacy to stay current.
“People with literacy issues sometimes can’t even navigate through a website,” she said. “It can be life-changing for individuals when they can improve their skills.”