Community Papers

Literacy opens up new world for South Okanagan woman

Two-year-old Mackenzie Francis gets some help with her masterpiece artwork from instructor Deborah Dayton at her Cannery studio recently as part of Family Literacy Week which runs until Sunday. A number of free special events are taking place each day to promote literacy locally. The recently-opened Dayton studio regularly offers classes in a wide range of art disciplines. - Mark Brett/Western News
Two-year-old Mackenzie Francis gets some help with her masterpiece artwork from instructor Deborah Dayton at her Cannery studio recently as part of Family Literacy Week which runs until Sunday. A number of free special events are taking place each day to promote literacy locally. The recently-opened Dayton studio regularly offers classes in a wide range of art disciplines.
— image credit: Mark Brett/Western News

If words can be weapons, Shirley Fehr has to fight off a full-on war every day.

The Summerland woman suffers from dyslexia and, she said, for lack of a better word “cheated” her way through school and situations by becoming canny in the way she asked for things or for help to fill out forms. Coming from a family of avid readers she struggled through school and it wasn’t until the age of 23 she picked up a Harlequin romance novel, suggested by a friend while on a camping trip, that she had a breakthrough. The thin books seemed a less daunting task and she has managed to work her way up from there.

“I had what I describe as a 360 degree turn, so words to me are backwards and upside down,” Fehr explains.

She might write a sentence and the word “was” will come out as “saw.” While most would catch that in a quick edit, Fehr doesn’t see the mistake, she reads it as “was.” Shining a light on just how difficult things can be for the woman. Fehr pushed through her short novels and took an adult reading class graduating to harder subjects and lengthier books.

“Reading is the best kept secret. When I sit down and read a novel I just am in awe in how people sit down and write it and make this great book,” said Fehr. “I look at my life now and I don’t have to worry about doing something if it requires me to read. I essentially have become a full-time student again because my lack for enthusiasm for schooling has changed.”

The challenge of reading still grips Fehr, making her job at a local post office a way to continually work at it.

“I couldn’t have picked a harder job,” jokes Fehr. “It’s the postal codes because they are number, letter and for my dyslexic brain it can be a jumble. When I do up a package for someone I have to think 10 times harder about it then anyone else. The problems I have haven’t gone away but with reading new doors have opened up. I just have to be totally focused on my job.”

Reading has also opened up a connection with her grandchildren. Fehr said she quite often pulls out a book and cuddles up with her grandkids to read with them.

“Now I know what a great gift reading is to not only yourself, but for other people to share that with. It is time I cherish because it is so much fun to see them pick up reading and sitting with them. It’s wonderful,” said Fehr.

Fehr’s story is one of many that give the Literacy Now South Okanagan Similkameen reason to celebrate and continue to push for people of all ages to crack open a book and spend time each day reading. This Saturday they are doing just that at Cherry Lane Shopping Centre from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. with activities for the whole family. A free book will be given to each child from Raise-a-Reader. Literary Outreach co-ordinator Joan Chambers said there will be information booths, activities for kids including story-telling and songs, dancing and music. Bubblee Bubblezz will entertain the crowd from 12 p.m. to 2 p.m. and prizes will be handed out.

Although the celebration is on Jan. 26, Family Literacy Day is nationally recognized each year on Jan. 27 to raise awareness of the importance of reading and doing other literacy-related activities as a family. They are asking anyone with new or gently used books of children and youth to drop them off at Cherry Lane Shopping Centre to Heap The Honda and help pass along a book to a child.

The theme this year is to Unplug and Play, promoting families to take 15 minutes every day to read or do a learning activity that can improve a child’s literacy skills dramatically and can help parents improve their skills as well.

“These events are all about informal learning” said Chambers.  “It’s the learning that occurs in daily life in the family, in the workplace, and in communities, through the interests and activities of individuals. Informal learning is about the integration of learning and living. We need to support and value it and make it more intentional.”

For a complete list of the Literacy Now free activities and events happening throughout the South Okanagan visit www.literacynowso-s.ca.

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