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Featured Charity

Read Saskatoon
Read Saskatoon
Read Saskatoon
Read Saskatoon
Read Saskatoon
304-1114 22nd Street West
Saskatoon, SK, S7M 0S5
Phone: (306) 652-5448
Did you know that 33% of Saskatchewan’s population struggles with reading and writing? Literacy directly influences a person’s ability to engage both socially and economically, and affects every aspect of an individual’s quality of life. Providing a range of programs that encourage the advancement of literacy and learning in our city, READ Saskatoon addresses this issue with a vision for a community that values, promotes, and supports literacy.
We sat down with READ Saskatoon’s Executive Director, Sheryl Harrow-Yurach, to discuss the need for literacy services in Saskatoon and the importance of empowerment through accessible literacy programming for adults and families. Keep reading for a deeper look at the programs offered by READ Saskatoon and to learn more about the life-changing effects of literacy support in our community.
What is the history of READ Saskatoon?
The organization started in 1979 in response to federal cuts to adult basic education. A group of businesses and public sector organizations understood the need for adult literacy programming, and came together to form READ Saskatoon. In the beginning we only offered one-on-one adult tutoring, but after ten or so years we expanded our programming to include family literacy. In 2012, we started our financial literacy program.
How does READ Saskatoon decide which programs to offer?
We are run by a volunteer board of directors made up of people who represent our community. Our board members come from all different walks of life, skill sets, and occupations. Whether they are an alumni as an adult learner, someone in marketing and communications, a person who has had a learning disability, or has simply shown an interest and understands the meaning of literacy, each board member contributes to the decisions regarding the strategic direction of the agency.
Tell us more about each program.
We provide one-on-one tutoring for adults who seek support, with the adult learner meeting with a tutor once a week. History has shown that the average match lasts 18 months. The tutoring is learner-focused and based on goals set by the adult learner. In addition to one-on-one tutoring for adults, we offer family literacy programming based on the principle that a parent is a child’s first teacher, the home is the first classroom, and our community is the first school. Family literacy is mainly Preschool and Pre-K focused with the child’s parents involved as well. Financial literacy programming is done in a workshop setting, with a focus on budgeting, banking, credit and debt management, asset building, and spending habits.
Who uses your one-on-one tutoring program?
People come to us from all walks of life for the tutoring program. Our adult learners and tutors must be at least 18 years of age, and there is a wide range of ages with our oldest tutor being 77 and our oldest learner being 83; volunteering and the quest for learning is ageless. We serve the whole community, with tutoring happening in a public location city-wide. When it comes to early learning, there are stronger needs in certain communities, but the demand is there throughout the city. We know that 33% of the population in Saskatchewan struggles with literacy, so there’s a large and broad demographic of adults who are in need of assistance.
How do you reach people?
It’s a real dance, and we are out all the time telling people about our services. We go to community organizations, businesses, schools like SIAST, SIIT, and GDI to talk about the programs we offer. The thing about the tutoring program in particular is that the people we want to reach have felt incredible shame surrounding their challenges, and asking for help can be very difficult. So whenever they are ready, we want to make sure they know we are here.
What exactly do your volunteer tutors do?
Volunteers go through nine hours of training prior to being paired with a learner. Our Volunteer Coordinator arranges matches between tutors and learners. The majority of the adults in our program are employed, so we try to find a tutor that can work with their schedule or any transportation limitation that there may be. Some of our tutors travel from one side of the city to the other to accommodate the needs of the adult learner. We tell our volunteers that it is about three hours per week which includes prep, travel time, and prep time for the next session. We have a staff that works 30 hours per week and supports the volunteers as much as they can. Our volunteers primarily do one-on-one tutoring, but they may also assist our staff with the programming for family literacy and financial literacy.
What are the key principles taught in tutor training?
Everything is based on adult learner philosophies, which focus on meeting people where they are at. Tutors are more like a guide and a coach. We want to be sensitive to the fact that it takes a lot for an adult learner to reach out for assistance, so our job isn't to put up more barriers for them to feel less than successful.
How long do volunteers commit for?
We ask for six months commitment from our tutors as well as from the adult learners who join our program. It takes about six months to see progress, as adult learners receive about one hour of tutoring each week, in addition to homework and extra reading done between sessions. Adult learners set their own goals, and usually after about 18 months either the match has met the goals or things have gotten in the way and it’s just time for a break. It is purely situational, and some tutoring relationships last longer than others.
Where does the tutoring take place?
We don’t have the resources or physical space to do programming in-house, so everything is done in a public location. Our tutors meet with learners in coffee shops, restaurants, and libraries. We provide family literacy in conjunction with another organization like a school or other community group. We work to deliver programming in whatever way the community wants us to.
Where do your materials come from?
We have some resources, and the Internet is always well-used by our volunteers, but our work is learner centred so quite often the resources used are what the adult learners bring with them. For example, if someone is struggling to make sense of their child’s school notes or workplace manual, a tutor will use that as a resource.
What are some of the common barriers that keep people from literacy?
There are many. Poverty, addictions, teen pregnancy, transiency, learning disabilities, coming to a new country, language barriers. Growing up in a home where basic needs choices had to be made: buying books or putting food on the table.
What do you think is the most important thing about the work READ Saskatoon is doing?
We care about the work we do and we care about the people we interact with. Learning for the sake of learning is where real change happens. I think this is an area of strength for our organization. Access is so important, and we provide another point of access by meeting people where they are at.
What would you say the positive ripple effects of literacy are?
The biggest thing that I love about adult literacy is that it changes families. When we have an adult come to us to improve their literacy skills, they are not just improving their skills, they are positively affecting the lives of their children. One of our adult learners, Adam, grew in many areas through literacy and made great strides in his career as a result. But he said that nothing was as powerful as finally being able to read a story to his child. I can’t imagine what it must feel like to finally be able to spend time with your children and people that you love, sharing something that’s around us everywhere we go and that people assume is easy.
What sort of fundraising do you do?
We hold two events each year; a golf tournament in the fall and an experiential auction event in March. It is called ‘Lit Up!’, and this year it is at the Sheraton Cavalier on March 26th. At the event, we auction off opportunities to do things you wouldn’t otherwise think of or arrange for yourself. For example, this year we are auctioning off a house concert for just you and your friends. Last year we raised $38,000 through the event, which makes a big difference to our budget. It is such a fun evening out!
We enjoy asking everyone this question: What do you love about Saskatoon?
I lived away for a while, but I couldn't wait to come back to Saskatoon. What I love about the city is that it is predictable. Even though it’s grown and changed over the years, it’s still easy to get around and the people here are caring. When times are tough, everyone digs in. The spirit of compassion is deep. I wouldn't live anywhere else. I also love the influence the university has on our city. It’s a learning city.
READ Saskatoon provides a range of literacy services for adults and families through the work of staff, trained volunteers and community partners. If you would like to contribute financially to support the vision READ Saskatoon has for our city, you can do so online. If you are interested in becoming a tutor, please contact READ Saskatoon for more information.
As part of My Saskatoon’s One-to-One advertising campaign, READ Saskatoon has been chosen by local Saskatoon business JBD Financial Planning to be featured on Give Back Saskatoon. You can read our interview with Janea Dieno, owner of JBD Financial Planning, using the link below.