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Adult lit program faces closure after funding cut

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An adult literacy program in Charleswood is months away from closure unless it finds alternative funding and ways to bolster its student base.

Last November, the province told the Westgrove Learning Centre it would not renew its funding past June 2013, co-ordinator Valerie Christie told a gathering of about 25 community members at a forum last month.

"Normally we cross our fingers in April or May, but this year the letter came long before that," Christie said.

The program began in 2009 at the Westgrove Family Resource Centre, one of six The Family Centre of Winnipeg operates in Manitoba Housing developments across the city.

The province had been funding the program to the tune of $45,000 per year for teacher salaries, computers and school supplies. However, funding was due to low attendance by the program’s 13 students, who come primarily from the Westgrove and Charleswood communities, but come as far away as River Heights.

Christie said only about half of the students — many of them single parents who have had conflicts with family, the law, addictions, and poverty and only have Grade 8 or 9 educations — attend classes, which take place four mornings each week, on a regular basis.

"For many of the students, school has been a negative experience with failure beyond measure," she said.

"With our students, there’s not a push to go through quickly. We take them through it as they can do it."

Attendees at the two-hour forum — which included students, community groups, area politicians, and other government representatives — spent an hour exploring measures to keep the school open and viable.

Ideas included tapping into alternative funding from various community groups, introducing a breakfast program to encourage attendance, expanding to offer high school credits, and moving to a larger location such as the Westdale Community Centre to attract and accommodate more students.

"There are fantastic resources in this community and we thought we could tap into that to see what we can do," Christie said.

If the school shuts down, the nearest alternative for students is the Stevenson Britannia Adult Literacy Program at Jameswood School in St. James.

However, the cost of arranging daycare and transportation will prove to be a setback to many students, said Angela Keno, who has learned how to read during her three years at the school.

"I know our class is small, but it makes a big difference in our lives," she said.
Hatije Alimehaj, who moved from Kosovo and attends the school with her sister, said she’s upset the school may close.

The program has helped improve her English skills, get a job at the nearby Westgrove School, and get a story about her journey to Canada published in Write On magazine.

"It’s making the community better," she said.

Charleswood MLA Myrna Driedger, who attended the forum along with Coun. Paula Havixbeck, called the cut an "attack on poverty," and said she would fight for the centre when the legislature resumes sitting in April.

"I am livid," Driedger said

"This is a cut that is totally inexcusable and is affecting people trying to make a difference in their lives, their children’s lives, and their community."

Lynnette Flett, executive director of Adult Learning and Literacy with the province, told the forum the department will work with the group with its next steps, which could include making money available to help cover transportation costs to another program.

Scott Gillingham, pastor of Grace Community Church, said he is prepared to mobilize his congregation to support Westgrove, as it currently does with a biweekly food bank.  

Local groups and businesses need to value community-based education programs and be players in supporting them, he said.

"Literacy equals employment and gives people a chance to break out of the poverty the face," Gillingham said.

For more information, contact the centre at 832-3770 or email westgrov@mts.net.

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