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Local literacy org helps promote reading with free books

Literacy is all about the freedom to read, so when Literacy Alberta was thinking of ways to celebrate its tenth anniversary, it figured that free books was the most appropriate party favour.

That’s why the provincial organization teamed up with groups in 100 communities to randomly leave 5,000 free books for passersby to pick up and take home. It just wanted to do something a little different to help spread the love of reading.

In St. Albert, STAR Literacy helped out with the task. The local volunteer literacy program helps adults with reading, writing, math and English language skills. Its main co-ordinator, Shelley Passek, explained that there is no way to underestimate the importance of literacy.

“People need to have good literacy skills so that they can be a productive member of society. They want to have good jobs but if you can’t read or write very well, you can’t move up the ladder at work. You can’t progress,” she said.

While many of us take our literacy for granted, those that struggle with reading and comprehension skills are at a disadvantage in many respects. It means that parents will have more trouble helping their children with their homework or even communicating with their teachers. Employment opportunities become more inopportune. Even reading and understanding this story isn’t likely.

In its 23-year history, STAR has only expanded in its efforts and in its client base. Passek explained that she consistently has more than 30 students at any one time and there are always more on the waiting list. She couldn’t even speculate on how many people her organization and its volunteers have helped over the years.

“It’s a lot of people,” she stated. “We’re very busy. It’s been a very busy program and we continue to grow. I think society as a whole benefits when people have good literacy skills.”

The problem of literacy is greater, even here, than most would realize.

“A lot of people have the misconception that St. Albert – being a more affluent community – that we don’t have these literacy issues, and we do.”

Passek stated that 40 per cent of Albertans struggle with their ability to understand and use information from written materials including news stories, schoolbooks and instruction manuals.

Janet Lane, executive director of Literacy Alberta, corroborated that figure. She commented that, when it comes to the written word, “People don’t always understand what you’re saying.”

“It’s the understanding. There’s only a very, very few people who cannot read English or French, but the problem is in understanding it well enough to really make good decisions and critically think about what is there on the page.”

She added that response to the promotion has been very positive. Each gift book also had a Literacy Alberta sticker on the cover encouraging people to reach out to the organization to talk about the book and to share their fondness with reading on its Twitter and Facebook pages or via e-mail.

The promotion ended Friday.

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About Author

Scott Hayes

Scott Hayes joined the St. Albert Gazette in 2008. Scott writes about the arts, entertainment, movies, culture, community groups, and charities. He also writes general news, features, columns and profiles on people.