Raise-a-Reader: Pemberton literacy outreach makes community engagement accessible

As Literacy Outreach Co-ordinator, Lisa Richardson received funds to provide community literacy outreach in Whistler-Pemberton.

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Community engagement can be intimidating, especially for people who aren’t confident in the language being spoken. But an intimate, facilitated meeting at a health food store and café made it easy for Junko Kawashima to discuss the Village of Pemberton’s new official community plan.

“About 10 people came, and a municipality employee,” said Kawashima, who moved to Canada from Japan 11 years ago.

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“We talked about our town, what we appreciate in our environment, what’s happening in Pemberton, what kind of developments are happening. It was quite random, actually. The guy from the local municipality showed us a huge village map and we drew on the map what we wanted to keep, what we didn’t want to be touched.”

The session was co-ordinated by Lisa Richardson, then the literacy outreach coordinator for the area, with the Pemberton Multicultural Network.

Literary outreach co-ordinators are employed by Capilano University’s Community Development and Outreach Department. There are co-ordinators for North Vancouver, Sunshine Coast, Squamish, Lower St’at’imx, and Lil’wat. The funding for the position and the programming comes from the Vancouver Sun’s Raise-a-Reader campaign.

Last year, funds raised through Raise-a-Reader helped bring literacy programs to 66,000 children and their caregivers through 10,934 program sessions. The total funds raised in B.C. since the 1997 inception of RaR is more than $22 million.

As Literacy Outreach Co-ordinator, Richardson received funds to provide community literacy outreach in Whistler-Pemberton. She used the funds for story-walks, journaling workshops, take-home kits for young readers, forest therapy walks, a concert and dance party with a children’s entertainer at the town’s respective libraries, and two kitchen-table sessions — informal gatherings to engage local citizens in community issues.

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The idea for the second of these sessions, the one Kawashima attended, was the creation of a non-threatening space for people to talk about the community plan. An expressive arts facilitator was hired to make the session playful and friendly.

“She added some really playful and engaging elements to the workbook the Village of Pemberton had put together,” Richardson writes. “She made us write a song and throw a ball around as an icebreaker, introduce ourselves, and share what we love about this place.”

Raise-a-Reader funds contributed to refreshments and the hiring of the facilitator.

Handout photo of Village of Pemberton planner Colin Brown working with community members at a pop-up kitchen table event hosted in a local store.Photo credit: Lisa Richardson Photo by Lisa Richardson/Pemberton Multic /jpg

Kawashima felt comfortable enough to share her perspective with the group and the Village of Pemberton’s planner.

“I mentioned to Lisa that sometimes I feel hesitant to join people who are gathering for any community events,” said Kawashima. A mother of two, she moved first to Canmore from Japan, then Whistler. She moved with her family to Pemberton eight years ago. She met her husband while working as a hiking guide for Japanese tourists.

“Because of our English, we’re not sure if we can explain what we are thinking or we worry that we’ll miss something people are saying. Sometimes we feel isolated. That’s why I appreciate Lisa for inviting me.”

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Kawashima recently completed a nutrition course. She works at Stay Wild Natural Health Food Store and Juice Bar, where the community planning session was held. She is also involved with the session’s partner, the Pemberton Multicultural Network.

“We wanted to create a way for it (the session) to be really low barrier to entry — not cliquey, privileged,” Richardson writes.

“In my opinion, local government engagement tends to occur with the same handful of already empowered and privileged people having their say over and over. And that was one reason we partnered with the Pemberton Multicultural Network — we wanted them to share the event with their members and let them know specifically that this had been designed to be accessible to everyone, even if language fluency was a challenge.”

Donations to Postmedia News’s Raise-a-Reader campaign can be made at raiseareader.com, 604-681-4199, and by cheque, payable to Vancouver Sun Raise-a-Reader, 1125 Howe St., No. 980, Vancouver, B.C., V6Z 2K8. Find us on Facebook @RaiseaReaderVan and on Twitter/X @RARVancouver #RARVan

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Originally posted 2023-09-27 20:08:52.