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Volunteer Testimonials

As a tutor last year and one of three Organizational Team Leaders (OTs) this year for the Edmonton Online Reading Circle, I have seen how our work with the children can make a difference in their lives. The connection that we have continuously built each week among the three OTs, the volunteer tutors, and the learners seems to have a positive impact on the children’s emotional wellbeing, their growth as individuals, and their confidence in and enjoyment of reading, writing and storytelling.  

This work as a tutor and OT for United for Literacy has turned out to be a wonderful match for my passions. I am a Community Builder at heart, with some experience in teaching; and I very much enjoy connecting one-on-one with the children and being a co-facilitator of the group. I believe in educational models in which learners are treated as equals, an approach we use for the Online Reading Circle. In our training we are taught the importance of learning about each child and using that knowledge to encourage their love of books and writing. Everyone in the circle raises each other up and learns from each other. 

There are many little moments from the Edmonton Online Reading Circle that I have found energizing and inspiring: 

  • When children share something from their own lives or when shyer children start to open up. Hopefully, when this happens, it means we have created a space where the children feel safe and that they belong. 

  • When children have a chance to express their individuality. 

  • The sense of joy and connection when the whole group is engaged in a game. 

  • Seeing how consistently the volunteer tutors rise to the challenges of working with the children, such as guiding them in creating a story from scratch. 

As someone who loves experiencing reading, writing, and play, in the context of community, it is very fulfilling to be involved in such a worthwhile program for children. 

I am retired now, but for many years I was the owner of a small business. My work was rewarding, challenging, and demanding. But there came a time when I began to realize that it somehow wasn't enough. I needed a different type of challenge, a deeper kind of reward...  

Volunteering with the Independent Studies Program at United for Literacy (formerly Frontier College) has provided me the opportunity to slow down, open my heart, and give of myself in a way that I hadn't known before. 

On a Monday evening, often after a long day and just wanting to put my feet up, I find myself at Yonge and St. Clair Ave. on my way to the Independent Studies Program located in the Gzowski House - a historic former mansion that is the national headquarters for United for Literacy. I'm running a little late, hurrying as I exit the subway, preoccupied, when I spot one of my fellow volunteer tutors up ahead. I call out and they turn and wave hello. As we walk together the final half block to our destination any stress I may have been feeling has been replaced with heart-felt camaraderie. It's such a pleasure to work with other like-minded individuals, giving of our time and energy for an important cause. 

We arrive a couple of minutes late and the classroom is filled with learners and tutors - eager and happy for another session of studying math, reading, or other subjects of interest.  

I am a literacy tutor who helps adults who have intellectual disabilities improve their literacy and basic skills. Our classroom is filled with unique individuals, with diverse and varied backgrounds and experiences. From our work together, I've learned to listen to my learners' needs and attempt to meet them on their level rather than pushing ahead with my own preconceived plan. 

After an hour of study, it's break time. We close our books, rise from our tables, and drift into a center room where coffee, tea, and cookies have been laid out on a side table. We stand in small groups and engage in chitchat, something I've never been very good at.  

Looking around, I realize that I'm not the only one who may be a little nervous. But then there's a laugh, a shout, a story told or a joke, and we begin to loosen up. Sometimes this is the most important lesson of the day - learning to relax and enjoy each other's company and conversation; taking a genuine interest in one another's life and experience. 

When break is over, we return our cups to the tray, and head back into the classroom. Someone pipes up in mock severity "Back to work!" as we head back to our tables. There’s a laugh. But it's not work - it's more of a quiet joy. I am happy to be gathered with the learners and other volunteer tutors on Monday evenings away from our busy lives for a couple of hours for the past 16 years. We have become friends. Together, there is a sense of achievement, a spark of understanding, and a shift in perspective. While this can seem like a small thing, the impact adds up to a significant change for the learners, the volunteers, and their communities.  

Becoming a literacy tutor is without doubt the most rewarding adventure that I have pursued in my post work life.  

Literacy really does change lives.  The young adult learners with whom I work tell me that their one-on-one learner / tutor learning experience in the Beat the Street program represents a turning point in what often has been repeated and failed attempts to advance their literacy. 

I have witnessed so many positive changes for my learners and their families during my 14 years as a volunteer with the program. I have seen my learners move on to thrive in full time employment, advocate successfully for their children’s schooling, pursue their own small businesses, rejoice in attaining their Canadian citizenship and participate fully in society. 

Volunteer tutoring for me has been a cross generational bridge to engage with young people who previously were not part of my personal or professional circle. In many cases, we have forged bonds and maintain contact even after the learners have left the program. 

I have always endeavored to be involved in volunteer work of some kind. However, it was more difficult to find that I expected.  For several years I spent long hours on “committees” arranging various black-tie galas for a variety of causes. I worked very hard writing press releases, invitation copy and bringing in the media to cover the events. Overall I was successful but never felt I was making much of a difference. There was a huge gap between my efforts and the people and organizations I wanted to contribute to.   

I began searching for another volunteer position, hopefully one where I could share my language/writing/editing skills in a beneficial and meaningful way. I am a great lover of the English language and studied English lit as an undergrad and a graduate student. I also spent many years as an editor and writer for many publications, and later a creative producer for film and television, and during this time I gained a great deal of knowledge about effective writing. This was something I believed I could share. However, many organizations offering English language tutoring skills were over-subscribed. (Many retired English teachers were doing this work. Good for them! They had familiarity with the high school curriculum, which I did not.) 

A few years ago, a friend mentioned Frontier College (now United for Literacy) and I contacted them immediately. After the required “vetting” I was taken on. That was more than two years ago and I am now working with my second student and fully anticipate being connected with more. My experience with United for Literacy has been consistently rewarding and edifying in ways I had not expected. It also made me think about written and spoken language in new ways. 

There are few things in human experience more important than the ability to communicate, and language, both spoken and written, is by far the most effective means of doing so. As a native speaker of English, I had given little consideration to the difficulties facing individuals learning the language. As my understanding of the challenges these students confronted my awareness of the importance of the place language plays in all our lives grew. Effective communication is a critical element in social unity. It enables newcomers to apply for employment, make friends, participate in their childrens’ education as well as performing myriad tasks involved in everyday life. Without reasonable facility in English (in most areas of this country) an individual’s life is at best riddled with constraints and obstacles. At worst it can mean a life of social, economic and professional isolation. 

My involvement in United for Literacy has also had valuable personal benefits for me In getting to know my students. I not only learned about their cultures and experiences in a new country, but also their personal struggles. I have learned to take a relaxed approach to the sessions, to let the student determine the pace and level of challenge. I’ve found that building a feeling of mutual trust is essential. It enables the student to respond with honesty about the effectiveness of the sessions, what if anything was lacking, and open discussions about the possibility of new approaches and content. I am learning as we progress and I am not ashamed to say that my knowledge of English grammar and usage improves along with my students’. The work has other rewards for me. I feel that I am involved in something of importance, work that benefits the community I live in, and allows me to feel a part of something positive and larger than myself.   

I honour the students involved in United for Literacy and sincerely admire their dedication to developing their facility with the English language. I must also commend those who are a part of the United for Literacy organization. In both cases, their work benefits us all and I feel proud to be playing even a small role in their process. 

United for Literacy has greatly improved my life since I began volunteering with them a year ago! It has been such a great organization for connecting me with my community through programs where I have built relationships with people from all kinds of different backgrounds. It is an empowering experience to know you are a part of something that is working towards building positive connections and promoting fun, educational experiences. United for Literacy’s goals align with my own, and it feels good to know that there are people who care about providing accessible literacy skills.  

My experience with the Comic Book Club has allowed me to work with like-minded volunteers and engage in a program devoted to a free and fun after-school environment.  

My experience with United for Literacy’s one-on-one tutoring program has been equally enriching. I have been able to make meaningful and long-lasting connections with individual students who are eager to learn. Those tutoring sessions are the highlight of my week!  

To anyone considering becoming involved with United for Literacy, you will not regret it. The Saskatoon team is highly approachable and communicative, this journey for me started with one email, and I am so grateful for my involvement thus far! 

My association with the then “Frontier College” began in 2010.  I had just retired from my position as a Patient Care Manager at a progressive long-term care centre.  My connection to Frontier College stemmed from my graduate study at the University of British Columbia in the 1980’s.  In my course on Adult Education, I was exposed to the ideals established by Frontier College and the Antigonish Movement a century ago – “education for all”, co-operation, empowerment, hope, self-help.  I hoped that these concepts would resonate with my work as a volunteer tutor. 

I believe “community” is something you create by sharing.  Sharing common interests, sharing what you have and sharing your hope for the future. As a volunteer tutor, I bring that mutuality to the work I do with my students.  Tutoring is such a great opportunity to meet diverse people and to feel included in their journey toward learning.  Although my students are learning curriculum concepts, I am learning about their culture, way of life and how they connect to my sense of community.  I hope they are also learning about who I am and the values I carry from my generation.  Simply by working on a complex concept together, we begin to share each other’s viewpoints and ways of understanding.  Together we learn how cooperation benefits both of us and how empathy is the way forward.  

Living and volunteering in Winnipeg has opened my eyes to the subtleties of living in a complex community. Winnipeg is a unique city.  It is rooted in the rough-and-tumble era of expansionism and immigration – the juxtaposition of colonialism and indigenous heritage. These common beginnings make us who we are, but do not wholly determine our future.  It is through sharing and helping one another that we can begin to achieve those things that make a community cohesive and strong.  When one person succeeds, we all succeed. Society benefits.   

In my work at Kaakiyow li moond likol (an adult education centre in the inner city), I was able to develop a more long-term relationship with the students.  Understanding their past, their present challenges and the burdens they carry was critical in establishing a trusting relationship.  During my time at Kaakiyow, the legacy of residential schools was fully recognized. Together, we grappled with cultural genocide.  It was the students who taught me about reconciliation and hope.  This firsthand knowledge helped me understand indigenous culture and strengthened my resolve to make my community a more inclusive place “for all”.   

My time at Kaakiyow was tinged with sadness and a growing awareness of how fragile life is. Two of my young students tragically died – one in a senseless pedestrian accident and the other to a preventable health condition.  These two students were striving to improve their lives through education. To be robbed of that opportunity is truly heart-breaking.  I take their joy of life and discovery with me when I tutor my present students.  Hope and empowerment live on in my work at UFL.   

I am encouraged by my efforts when I see my students achieve their scholastic goals and feel more confident to begin the next chapter of their lives.  For some, this has meant being able to earn a decent living or attend post-secondary education.  For others, it has meant achieving something that was previously impossible.  This accomplishment has empowered them to see themselves in a different light.  For my “more mature” students, their commitment to education has encouraged their children to stay in school.  All these small steps give the community the power to self-determine and grow stronger together.  Knowledge is power and the students appreciate how a diploma can and does make a difference.   

Anyone who is interested in volunteering with United for Literacy should not be deterred by any assumptions.  As long as you are “brave” in going outside your traditional community, you will be enriched by the experiences you will have.  Determine what age group of students you would like to spend time with.  You don’t need to be an expert in the curriculum – just bring an open, accepting attitude and you will be rewarded for your efforts.  We need one another. Tutoring is an excellent way to feel engaged and helpful – a really tangible way of making a difference one interaction at a time.  

Becoming a volunteer with United for Literacy has been an incredible experience. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed every step of the process. From the first training session to attending weekly meetings with the kids, it’s been both fun and rewarding. Seeing the progress students are making week after week is amazing. It’s also been special to witness their confidence build over time. I recommend anyone who is interested in giving back to their community to start an application with United for Literacy. Their staff is supportive and will provide you with the tools necessary to become the best volunteer you can be!
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