Since 1976, the READ Society has been designing individual remedial learning programs for children and youth, and since 1978, we’ve been offering literacy and remedial learning programs for adults across the community.
A non-profit society and registered charity, READ was started by parents and teachers who saw a need for extra assistance with reading, writing and mathematics. One of the most significant principles that have weathered the test-of-time is READ’s strong belief and commitment to the benefits of individual help for learners, delivered by professional teachers.
A lot has changed in Victoria since 1976. Today, our ability to understand and use words and numbers is critical to our individual and community health. READ has adapted its programs and services to meet the needs of the changing community. “The fact that 40 per cent of working British Columbians do not have the literacy skills to meet the demands of contemporary society speaks to the ongoing need for literacy support. Children and adults who are struggling continue to need individual help, and we continue to ensure that happens. READ’s work is just as crucial today as it was in 1976.”
Throughout the decades, READ has always offered sessions with one or two learners per teacher as well as instruction in small group settings. In the early days, teachers took students into their own homes, “quietly doing what we could,” says Selina Farrar. She retired from READ in 1996 but still maintains close ties with current staff. “We wanted to get something started for children who were just drowning.”
She and three other teachers – Linda Anderson, Charlotte Etches, and Veronica Izzard – were involved in the creation of “Project Catch Up,” for kids that needed specialized help. Teachers received specialized training as well. “The whole policy was that no child would be slotted into a ready-made program,” Farrar says.
From the beginning, READ’s founders were determined to make an organization that would thrive for decades. Both then and now, programs grow in response to the community.
“READ is continually reinventing itself to meet the needs of its students and those who fund the programs. However, the commitment to our basic tenets remains constant,” says Helen Thomas, who has been a READ teacher since 1987.
After only two years as a society, programs had grown so much that a house was purchased at 720 Linden Avenue in Fairfield, with funds from the Vancouver Foundation. Operations expanded to Langford and Sidney.
After just eight years, READ “burned the mortgage” on the Linden property. In 2007, amidst much reminiscing and some sadness, the property was sold as READ again changed to meet the community’s needs.
Veronica Izzard, who now lives and teaches in California, recalls the Linden Avenue years with fondness. “It was a fun learning experience in a place where we all seemed to work from the heart,” she says. She relished the small group instruction, as progress was easy to monitor. “Students were happy because they witnessed their own success in developing literacy skills,” she says.
Today, Izzard’s words are echoed by current teaching staff who also say they like being able to really get to know their students, build on foundation skills one step at a time, and bridge learning gaps. “READ still puts the student and their learning first, which is why I love my job,” says Janie Harrison, who started as a teacher’s aide in 1977, and came back as a teacher in 1986.
Since 1985, READ has offered full-time classes for adults wanting to improve their skills to re-enter the workforce, and for new immigrants working on their English skills. Today, adults can also get instruction in computer use. New programs are bringing READ’s teachers onto First Nations territory to deliver culturally-relevant programs close to home.
For many years, READ has helped employers and employees address workplace learning and literacy, including piloting English as a Second Language For Work in 1994. READ continues to serve youth and adults seeking employment through workplace learning programs and programs delivered with partners in the community.
In the ‘70s, as now, programs relied on fundraising, donations, grants and partnerships. Izzard recalls how the staff was continually writing grants, holding auctions, and “pitching in,” to ensure the programs could be offered.
In 2016, READ partnered with Literacy Victoria, a sister organisation providing literacy support to adult learners. We are working together for greater impact!
We gratefully continues to embrace community support, whether through individual donations, corporate partnerships or volunteer effort. Both READ’s ongoing provision of tuition assistance for children and youth from low-income households and its community outreach work would not exist without the community’s support of literacy and learning.