A growing love for literacy

“First Book Canada gives us the opportunity to make a measurable impact in the community that’s immediate.” – Graham Hughes, Literacy Alberni

Graham Hughes is the Executive Director at Literacy Alberni, a non-profit literacy provider that is working to address the low literacy levels of people in Port Alberni and surrounding communities. Literacy Alberni serves the Alberni-Clayoquot Regional District, which has a total census population of 30,981, as well as the surrounding Indigenous reservations. Working together, First Book Canada and Literacy Alberni have been able to provide every child in the community with 2 new books this year. Some kids will not have anything under the tree at Christmas, so they want to save their new books to unwrap during the holidays.

The Community

Port Alberni is a remote and isolated community of about 17,000 people on the West Coast of Vancouver Island. The Alberni Indian Residential School was open until the mid-1970s, and many residents still suffer from the trauma that they experienced. Men in the community commonly worked at the mill nearby, and would often drop out of school in the 7th or 8th grade. They were paid well and felt that they did not need to complete their education or go on to further studies. These men are now retirees. Due to various different socioeconomic factors, 41% of residents in the Alberni Valley lack adequate literacy skills, and children who grow up in the community are falling behind as a result. In the Alberni Valley, there is a higher percentage of children reading and writing below standard than elsewhere in the province of B.C.

Many members of the community live off of about $1000/month but rent can often range from $800 – $1000/month, so many parents struggle to provide food and basic necessities for their family. Because of this, buying books to have at home is not a priority. There is no bookstore in the community. There are 26 Little Free Libraries in the area that allow kids to take a book and leave a book – but this is often their only place to find reading materials.

Indigenous literature is now required in classrooms by the province, and there is a demand for additional First Nations resources. The school district does not have proper funding to provide resources, and the Indigenous books distributed by First Book Canada are the only ones that they currently have access to.

Readers picking out new books at the Pop Up Book Distribution in Port Alberni, May 2018.

The Impact

Since receiving new books from First Book Canada, Hughes said that he has received numerous comments from parents who have said that their children have no taken their noses out of their books. Kids are ecstatic to receive new books and Hughes is happy to see that they have been able to successfully promote a love of reading.

Hughes is excited to continue a partnership with First Book Canada. He said that the partnership with First Book Canada feels like someone is finally investing in the community. Otherwise, the books would not be available because no one in the community could provide the support structure. Kids in Port Alberni have already been asking about more new books to read.

“When we’re investing in children, these kids are seeing something special happening in their school, they’re seeing people care about them in that way.” – Graham Hughes

Port Alberni, B.C. 2018.