While the Columbia Basin Alliance for Literacy recently celebrated its tenth anniversary as a non-profit society, its roots go back much further — at least to 1990.
That year, Project Literacy West Kootenay started as a partnership between Selkirk College and the region’s library association to provide adult literacy programs.
Another milestone came in 1994, when the East and West Kootenay became home to regional co-ordinators hired through Literacy BC.
Two years later, Golden, Invermere, Kimberley, Cranbrook, and Creston began looking at ways of sustaining family literacy programs. A year of planning resulted in blueprints for projects that involved 20 partners.
Meanwhile, Nakusp, New Denver, Nelson, Castlegar, Trail, and Grand Forks also applied for funding for pilot family literacy programs.
By 1999, co-ordinators on both sides of the Purcells decided they wanted to work more closely, and created an informal alliance.
“Very small non-profits always struggle for funding,” recalls Leona Gadsby of Invermere, then the East Kootenay literacy co-ordinator. “They just don’t have the human and financial resources. We needed to be linked together in a broader organization that would be more sustainable.”
It took time, however. Over a couple of years, Gadsby met with all sorts of groups.
“I invited to lunch people from employment agencies and family resource centres, probation officers, libraries, school districts, colleges, and said ‘Do you think we could do more to support literacy and could we work more closely together?’”
About the same time, the Columbia Basin Trust was developing its management principles, including one aimed at reducing poverty.
“We were able to meet with the Trust board to say one way [to achieve that] is to ensure people have the skills they need to get an education and get good work, and we happen to have a Basin-wide network,” Gadsby says.
An initial one-year funding agreement was renewed and continues to this day. “That has been a huge factor because they have provided sustainable funding over the years,” Gadsby says. “Without that, it’s very hard to maintain the work.”
The Columbia Basin Alliance for Literacy was formally incorporated in August 2001.
In 2010-11, over 2,300 adults and 3,200 children participated in adult, youth, senior, family, and English as a Second Language programs, assisted by about 500 volunteers.
Programming is slightly different in each of the 16 communities where the Alliance is active, determined by advisory committees that target local needs.
In 2006, Gadsby left the Alliance to work with 2010 Legacies Now, and then joined the successor to Literacy BC, Decoda Literacy Solutions — which funds literacy co-ordinators around the province, including those in the Columbia Basin.
She has gone from being one of the Alliance’s co-founders to one of its benefactors.
“It’s hard to continue to find funding to keep programs in this informal sector going,” she says, “yet it’s so critically important. This informal learning makes a huge difference in terms of how successful people are in more formal environments.”