Columbi Basin Alliance for Literacy-Gillian Wells

Gillian Wells is Creston’s co-ordinator for the Columbia Basin Alliance for Literacy.

Columbia Basin Alliance


I Love Creston Editor 

Literacy: It may seem to have a simple definition — the ability to read — but there’s so much more to it.

“Literacy is not just reading — it’s reading, writing, numeracy, computer skills, preparing for school, preparing for work,” says Gillian Wells, Creston’s co-ordinator for the Columbia Basin Alliance for Literacy (CBAL). “We’re getting more referrals for people who can read or write, but need help with computers.”

Wells succeeded Joan Hedstrom as the community literacy co-ordinator in April, having participated in CBAL programs with her children at Family Place and volunteered for CBAL for a few months prior.

The 15-year-old non-profit organization has 16 co-ordinators serving 77 communities in southeast B.C., promoting literacy and learning by partnering with community organizations to deliver services to people of all ages.

“Programs you see here are different than Nelson or Kaslo or the Elk Valley,” says Wells. “Because we have Family Place, we don’t run as many individual family programs.”

Local CBAL youth programs include Baby Goose at the library, Family Rhyme Time at Mormon Hills School and the One to One reading program in elementary schools. For adults, programs include One to One, computer courses (with an iPad session running in January), Telling Our Stories (an autobiographical writing course), English as a second language courses and a conversation class.

CBAL also provides a settlement program, overseen locally by former literacy co-ordinator Linda Steward, who helps newcomers deal with needs such as banking, citizenship, shopping and learning about the area.

That fits with the CBAL vision: “We strive to help all people get the functional skills needed to participate fully in their communities: socially, economically, politically and culturally.”

To make than happen, CBAL relies on community partners, such as the Creston Valley Public Library, Family Place, Kootenay Employment Services, College of the Rockies and Valley Community Services.

“Those connections with other community organizations that are well established are hugely beneficial and very much appreciated,” says Wells.

Born and raised in Salmon Arm, Wells earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology in Victoria, where part of her practicum included volunteering at a juvenile penitentiary in an art program with individuals and small groups.

“We’d just sit and paint and chat,” she said. “It was a really neat environment.”

Wells also worked in administration and program management for Community Futures in Salmon Arm, and handled clients and design for her husband’s Benthammer Timberworks. Family ties — her husband’s grandfather, Hans Waltl, was a watch and clock repairman — brought the couple to Creston 14 years ago.

With their two children both in school, Wells was excited to take on the challenge of community literacy co-ordinator, with its wide range of duties, including arranging programs and volunteers, connecting with organizations and assessing new learners. With 15 other co-ordinators located throughout the Kootenay and Boundary regions, she’s not alone.

“If you see the CBAL logo here and you see the CBAL logo in Nelson, it’s the same thing,” she says. “We create our own connections, but we’re part of a larger alliance. … I really feel privileged to be part of such a unique organization.”

CBAL is funded by Columbia Basin Trust, Decoda Literacy Solutions, Selkirk College, College of the Rockies, and the provincial and federal governments, and also receives community support, such as Black Press’s Reach A Reader fundraiser, which runs each October.

The organization offers volunteer and employment opportunities, with hired facilitators and volunteer tutors each receiving up to 10 hours of training. No experience is necessary, “just people who have a desire to help other people, whether adults or children,” says Wells. Time commitments for tutors vary, with One to One volunteers spending 1.5 hours weekly in schools, and tutors for adult learners having more flexiblity.

Volunteers are also key to helping CBAL with bigger events. Coming up in November is the Big Read, when the local Community Literacy Award is presented, and Canada Caught on Camera, a community photography project.

It’s part of a variety that Wells appreciates as she and her colleagues help others lead fuller lives through literacy.

“I love being able to help people,” she says. “I love the feedback from people saying what a difference it made for them.

“For me, being so happy in my hometown and loving my hometown so much, it’s nice to have a deeper connection.”

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