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Your Donation at Work: Russell’s Story 

“I want you to know that your money is never wasted when you support United for Literacy. It’s magic. It gives people the tools to grow. The tutors work WITH the individual and treat them like human beings.” — Russell 

Russell first came to United for Literacy in 2008 as a learner in the Independent Studies program, where people with developmental disabilities work with instructors and volunteers to improve their reading, writing, math, and life skills. Today, he is a cherished and invaluable volunteer in the United for Literacy book room, where he helps to ship books to kids all over Canada.  

Russell didn’t have an easy childhood. He lived with his mom and siblings on the West Coast until he and his sister were sent to their dad’s in Toronto. “I had a violent, hostile, and abusive childhood,” he says. But he also says that the one good thing his dad taught him was, “If you’re going to do something, make sure you put 100% into it.” 

For Russell, that “something” was a kitchen apprenticeship during high school, where he learned valuable skills about cooking and organization. For a while, things went well for Russell. He worked in some of the city’s best and busiest restaurants. But a lifetime of being unsafe in his own family and of being told by people—who were supposed to provide care and support—that he wasn’t smart took its toll. After years of giving 100%, Russell had no more to give. Depression, hospitalization, and a life-threatening accident depleted Russell’s confidence until he was uncertain that he’d ever find a place where he felt secure again. 

“United for Literacy is where I want to be.” Russell says. It is me. 

A man in an orange and yellow safety shirt standing in front of stacks of books.

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Until December 31, your gift will be matched by former Board member and long-time supporter Lynn McDonald. Your gift today will make a difference for years to come. 

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Your donation improves life for people in Canada 

“When it was suggested that I come to United for Literacy, I was unsure,” Russell confides. "But when I met Susan, who ran the program, I trusted her immediately.” 

Susan paired Russell with Bonnie, a volunteer who shared and encouraged his love of cooking and gave hitime to get comfortable in his new environment. Together, they worked on many topics, including understanding the Toronto subway system. This was a huge help to Russell, who typically walked 10, 20, or more kilometres every day. 

Russell attended the Independent Studies program over 10 years ago, but his story with United for Literacy doesn’t end there. In 2016, Russell was introduced to Laura, who runs our social enterprise bookstore and book roomShe asked if he wanted to help ship new, free children’s books to communities all over Canada. 

I’d heard about the bookroom, but I didn’t think it was for me. I was worried that Laura would find out about my challenges and want someone who can do more. But after a couple of weeks, I wondered why I didn’t do it sooner.” 

Russell is a vital part of United for Literacy. He brings a lifetime of skill and determination, which helps to make the bookroom more efficient. More importantly, he brings the building to life. He is much more confident than when he first walked through the door. Staff, volunteers, and learners alike stop to talk and joke with him. Russell embodies the spirit and values of United for Literacy, giving his time and energy to sending books to children, families, and communities in need. 

“Your support of United for Literacy improves lives—including mine! There are no other services like it for people like me. It saves people’s lives.” — Russell 

If you’d prefer to donate by phone, please call 1-800-555-6523 ext. 3324. 

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