STEVE BARTLETT: Adult literacy programs have an amazing impact

Steve Bartlett
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Linda Richards stood at a podium Friday and read a four-page speech she had written.

Linda Richards is the recipiant of the 2014 Learner Achievement Award.


It was a moving moment, and it wouldn’t have been possible four years ago.

Richards had poor reading and writing skills back then. Life, especially earning a living, was difficult.

She was a home-care worker and struggled with putting her thoughts on paper when writing patient reports.

Organizing grocery lists was hard. So was ensuring medications went to the right people.

“I had to make doubly sure that I was doing this right,” she said. “I would ask other workers to check my work because I was uncertain if everything was OK.”

Life has been improving for Richards since 2010.

That year, out of work and tackling some personal challenges, she joined a women’s program at Stella’s Circle.

She gained confidence to start dealing with her issues — one of the biggest being her lack of literacy skills.

Richards enrolled in a Level I adult basic education (ABE) program at Stella’s Circle in 2012.

She practised reading and writing daily, and it paid off.

Earlier this week, she donned a cap and gown for her Level I graduation. She’s been accepted for Level II and III at the Discovery Centre.

“I am amazed by my progress,” she said.

She has her sights set on taking a personal-care attendant program after Level III.

“I feel confident that I can do it,” she said. “I think I would feel more comfortable writing reports and recording medications as a homecare worker. I have more knowledge now about what to put down on paper.”

Richards delivered her speech to a room of waterlogged golfers who played in this year’s Peter Gzowski Invitational (PGI), a tournament the late CBC broadcaster started in 1986 to raise money for literacy programs.

You could have heard a divot drop as she spoke.

The courage, effort and journey involved in reaching the podium was apparent in her story.

It was also obvious she was a deserving recipient of this year’s PGI/Telegram Learner Achievement Award. It goes to an ABE student who has demonstrated a strong commitment to learning to read and write.

“I feel more confident in myself and believe in myself, too,” she said later.

Before ABE, Richards’ literacy level was assessed at three out of 10, and her self-esteem suffered.

Her literacy level is now at six and she’s ready to the take the world by storm.

“I have no fear at all,” she said with a laugh.

Linda Richards’ success shows the value and power of adult literacy programs.

And in a province where a high percentage of adults have low reading and writing skills — 50 per cent and among the highest in Canada, some studies say — there are many more people in the very predicament she was in four years ago, many more people who aren’t living up to their potential.

That’s why there’s a need for more public and private literacy funding.

It also why everyone needs to encourage adults with such challenges to take a course and improve their lives.

Richards offered this simple advice to anyone struggling with reading and writing.

“Never give up,” she said. “And ask for help.”

There’s no disagreeing with that.


Steve Bartlett is managing editor of

The Telegram. Reach him via email at

Organizations: Discovery Centre, CBC

Geographic location: Canada

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Recent comments

  • Kate Nonesuch
    July 08, 2014 - 11:13

    Great story! Congratulations to Linda, whose story echoes many adult literacy students I have known. Too bad that, a vital resource for literacy instructors and tutors is being "de-funded" by the Harper government. #BringBackCopian.

  • Kate Nonesuch
    July 08, 2014 - 11:01

    Great story. I have known many students with a similar story, and I admire Linda's determination and courage to face her reading problems. Yet at the same time, the federal government has shut down, which has been a valued and valuable resource for literacy instructors and tutors for 25 years. #BringBackCopian.

  • Marina Hoskins
    July 02, 2014 - 14:12

    I know Linda personally even though I haven't had the pleasure of talking with her in person after leaving St .John's to reside elsewhere. I met Linda years ago when she decided to join The St .John's Health Care Lion's Club where I was the club president at the time .she was a willing member and even though she was working as a Home care worker at the time she attended meetings whenever she could and I would see to it that she always got a ride to and from meetings. She was appointed Tailtwister in the club and even though she was interested and loved what she was doing I found first hand that she was struggling with illiteracy. We have never lost contact since those times and she even calls me in Florida. We became good friends during Lions days and continue to keep in touch. She is a very caring person and loves to keep in touch with her friends she met in The Lions Club. I am so happy she has come so far and she has always kept me up to par on her progress .Congratulations Linda I,m so very proud of you it's all up hill from here. Marina Hoskins