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Scaled-down Literacy Victoria prepares to reopen in March

Six months after it shut down, a non-profit Victoria service that had provided free tutoring for 26 years will be back in action next month.
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Literacy Victoria chairman Vern Paetkau: Six months after the non-profit was forced to shut down, it's set to reopen March 2 with fewer staff and smaller rental quarters.

Six months after it shut down, a non-profit Victoria service that had provided free tutoring for 26 years will be back in action next month.

A scaled-down version of Literacy Victoria is set to open March 2, with fewer staff and smaller rental quarters, but optimism it can resume one-to-one tutoring for an estimated 50 adults who need assistance with reading and writing at any one time.

“That’s what we’re hoping to build up to fairly quickly,” said vice-chairwoman Susan Reese.

Literacy Victoria has remained in touch with most volunteer tutors, but other volunteers are needed for office help, to answer phones and perform other duties.

Sharon Welsh, now in Tanzania helping to set up chicken farms, has been hired as co-ordinator and will pair learners and tutors from an office located within the Victoria Disability Resource Centre at 817A Fort St.

“We’ve cut out $100,000 per annum on staff, materials, phone, photocopying and rent,” Reese said. Three of four full-time staff had to be let go because of the financial problems that caused the closing on Aug. 31. Issues included a lack of guaranteed financial support, federally funded projects that dried up, funding cuts and the amount of rent paid for large premises on Yates Street.

The closing likely left some of Victoria’s most disadvantaged citizens with nowhere to turn, Reese said. “There is no other free literacy program in Victoria.”

After settling its accounts and negotiating out of its lease, Literacy Victoria has enough funds to operate for six to eight months, with plans to apply for grants from the province, which used to provide $50,000 per year, and from the Victoria Foundation and the United Way.

The Fort Street office is much smaller than what it used to have, but the Greater Victoria Public Library has offered meeting space for tutoring sessions, along with a dedicated section of shelving for learning materials.

Coffee shops and rec centres are frequently used for meetings, said Reese, who regularly tutored in a fast-food restaurant.

Literacy Victoria is also serious about seeking community donations and has a “donate” button on its website,

“We’re hoping that the people who were so horrified when we closed will now come forward,” Reese said.

Until now, individual and business contributions had not been a traditional source of funds.

Because of the shortfall, the organization has stopped running a bookmobile for homeless people or providing services for inmates at the Vancouver Island Regional Correctional Centre.

The public library now runs the bookmobile and a volunteer provides services at the jail. The mobile computer lab has been discontinued.

“We’re going back to our roots,” Reese said.

Literacy Victoria is an offshoot of Read Society, which focuses on children and youth only, and began when it was found that some of the parents who brought their children to Read had problems themselves.

Clients include adults who have suffered brain injuries and need to re-learn literacy skills, people who never really learned literacy skills, whether or not they graduated from high school, and newcomers to Canada who cannot function in their first language.

Any donations of more than $35 will receive a tax deduction receipt.

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