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The Canucks Hit Vancouver Streets

by Staff Writer / Vancouver Canucks

Raise-a-Reader Day and the Canucks Family Education Centre team up to battle low literacy levels in Vancouver.

Since its national inception three years ago, Raise-a-Reader has raised more than $2.8 million, $1.6 million of which was raised in Vancouver, in support of literacy programs in Canada. Each fall, thirteen cities nation wide gather high profile community members-- such as members of the Vancouver Canucks-and volunteers together to "hawk" CanWest newspapers in exchange for donations. The $740,000 raised in BC in 2004 due to newspaper sales, corporate sponsorship and provincial government donations provided financial assistance and resources to family literacy programs and libraries in BC, such as the Canucks Family Education Centre located on Vancouver's eastside.

Although Canada's literacy levels lead internationally, consistently outranking the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand, Literacy BC reports that more than forty percent of working age people in BC have trouble with the everyday demands of reading, writing and using numbers. The issue affecting society, Literacy BC warns, is that people who struggle with these basic skills are less likely to gain and keep employment, earn a high income, participate fully in society, and be involved in their children's education. Family literacy programs emphasize that literacy is the universal human right to gain knowledge and express thought, and by removing barriers to literacy, strong communities can be built.

By responding to the needs of the community, Vancouver is paving the path to increased national literacy levels. Raise-a-Reader is an initiative that was started in Vancouver in 1997 by Vancouver Canucks Community Partnerships Director, Debbie Butt. She started this venture with Vancouver Sun publisher, Dennis Skulsky during her time working with the Vancouver Grizzlies. Raise-a-Reader became a national initiative in 2001 due to its success at raising awareness about and funds for family literacy. In 2002, the Canucks Family Education Centre-- a partnership between Literacy BC, Britannia Community Services Centre, and the Canucks for Kids Fund-was formed. The Canucks for Kids Fund, as one of the primary beneficiaries of Raise-a-Reader, used the money raised to help open the Canucks Family Education Centre, donating $150,000 over three years.

The Canucks Family Education Centre is located in east Vancouver, a community that suffers from high levels of poverty and substance abuse. The mantra of this unique centre that combines the efforts of educators, families and social agencies, is to positively impact low literacy levels on Vancouver's Eastside. It plans on identifying and correcting gaps in existing literacy programs, such as implementing a "No Excuse" learning environment for parents and children. The Centre believes that the family is a learning unit, which is why it mediates intergenerational opportunities for learning: it provides hot lunches and daycare so that parents can take advantage of an environment that allows them to read with, and oftentimes learn to read with, their children.

By promoting reading and learning as valued family activities, parents can begin to support their children's literacy development. Literacy BC emphasizes that parents need to be involved in their children's education, including reading to them at an early age. By exposing children to a literary environment, parents can place their children at a great educational advantage. Literacy BC statistics show that children who are read to at a young age may have as much as several thousand hours of one-on-one pre-reading experience under their belts upon entering grade one, which often contrasts with children who have never opened a book. Without crucial parental support, the cycle of under-education continues from generation to generation. With support from family literacy programs-- like those supported by Raise-a-Reader and those found in the Canucks Family Education Centre-- children who might otherwise have been educationally and developmentally behind their peers enter school on par. Furthermore, by providing an environment where parents and children can learn to read together, it is possible to increase overall literacy levels in Canada.

Due to the success of the programs offered at the Canucks Family Education Centre, it is expanding to other schools in the east Vancouver area, including Grandview, Strathcona, Garibaldi and several others. As the necessity of literacy increases (ABC Canada estimates that about 45 percent of new jobs created this decade will require sixteen years of education), programs that aim to reverse low literacy levels in target communities, such as east Vancouver, become more and more beneficial. Please support Raise-a-Reader Day in Vancouver by purchasing a Vancouver Sun Newspaper on Thursday, September 29, 2005.

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