Sunday, December 10, 2023
December 10, 2023

Salt Spring Literacy programs for all ages

The Books & Bling sale that runs at the Farmers’ Institute this Friday through Sunday, Nov. 3 to 5 is one of Salt Spring’s best-loved annual fundraisers and social events, organized by the Salt Spring Literacy Society.

As people pay for their newfound book and jewellery treasures, they often ask what the funds are directed towards.

Salt Spring Literacy (SSL) has existed on Salt Spring since 2007, and offers various programs for learners of all ages. Former School District 64 teacher Stella Weinert has been the SSL coordinator for several years now. She and others are thrilled to have acquired two classrooms at the Salt Spring Island Multi-Space for their new home base.

“We’re really happy with the new space,” said Weinert. “It’s given us two private tutoring areas, room for storage, room for program prep, the 1000X5 program and storage for the book sale, and for doing workshops and training.”

Last year SSL had 44 adult learners accessing the free tutoring services — mostly English language learners and people needing sustained help using computers or other devices — and 75 people dropping in for a specific purpose such as completing a government form or getting one-time technology help.

Keiko Taylor, also a retired teacher and administrator, coordinates the programs benefitting children. The 1000X5 program collects books for children aged 0 to five, which are distributed on a regular basis to families who might not otherwise have access to a lot of books. The title refers to the belief that a child should have seen 1,000 books by the age of five in order to develop solid literacy skills.

Salt Spring Literacy (SSL) executive director/coordinator Stella Weinert, right, and SSL children’s programs coordinator Keiko Taylor.

The One-to-One Reading Program sees adults listen to elementary school children read and provide gentle coaching. Orientation, training and support is provided, and the time commitment is only about 90 minutes per week.

Penny Poole, a retired teacher from Ontario, is an enthusiastic One-to-One volunteer. Not only did she have a teaching background but relevant family experience as well. While one of Poole’s sons learned to read easily at a young age, the other was diagnosed with dyslexia and struggled.

zandoyo bed & breakfast

When it seemed one of her three One-to-One schoolchildren was not making progress last school year after several sessions, she turned to her son, who is now 42, for advice. He encouraged her to stick with it and just have fun with the student when they are together.

“And that is what the teacher said as well,” recounts Poole. “Develop the relationship, don’t worry about the reading . . . and then it was a totally different game.”

After time spent getting to know each other, one day while they were sharing giggles the student started to pick out some words from a Dr. Seuss-type book they were reading. And then they discovered Mo Willems’ books, and that sent the student well on their way to being a reader by the end of the school year.

“I absolutely loved it,” said Poole. “For me, it was a real sense of being a part of something that’s growing, and it’s progressive and it’s helpful, instead of all the other things that I could do . . . But this is also personal. It’s partly because of my heart for my child, my own son and the process that he went through, and partly it’s just because I’m at an age where you really want to know that what you’re doing is good work.”

Poole appreciates all the support, strategies and games provided to volunteers by Taylor, and the other people within SSL and the school district she encounters.

“The kind of books that you’re reading with the child are fun and delightful,” she added. “It’s such a positive and optimistic experience. I can hardly wait to go and see the kids, so that’s really nice.”

One-to-One currently operates in Fulford, Fernwood and Salt Spring elementary schools, and the program could use a few more volunteers, even on a casual basis. People should contact Taylor at or 250-537-9717 if they are interested.

Helping people for whom English is not their first language is another major program offered by Salt Spring Literacy.

Igor Darmokhid is well known on Salt Spring for his artwork and efforts to raise funds to help victims of Russia’s war on his home country of Ukraine. He works at Thrifty Foods and Lady Minto Hospital, and knew absolutely minimal English when coming to Salt Spring five years ago with his wife Oksana and daughter Ivanna, who graduated from Gulf Islands Secondary School last year.

Darmokhid has been learning English through Salt Spring Literacy’s free tutoring services since he arrived, and is currently one of 12 people from Ukraine doing that. The Ukrainians also get together as a group outside of literacy centre activities.

Darmokhid describes the importance of learning English for newcomers.

“The first step for newcomers is getting a house on Salt Spring. The second step is literacy, because it’s language and it’s, like, everything. No language, no job. No job, no food; no food, no life — no life!”

He said the emphasis of his initial lessons with tutor Roger Mah Poy was things he needed to know in order to work at Thrifty Foods: how to tell customers where products can be found in the store, for example, and what to say when he didn’t know the answer. A similar process occurred when he started to work at Lady Minto Hospital.

He is now working towards his English Language Skills Assessment certification.

Darmokhid has also seeded another Salt Spring Literacy program in Ukraine.

“It’s kind of like our 1000X5 program,” said Weinert. “He’s sent books to a preschool in Ukraine and raised all the money to do that.”

Darmokhid said he and islander Victoria Olchowecki and others have fundraised some $60,000 locally for projects that mainly benefit children and medical supplies and staff in Ukraine.

The literacy centre is open Mondays through Thursdays from noon to 4 p.m. For more information, contact Weinert at or 250-537-9717, or drop by the information table at Books & Bling this weekend.


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