Early literacy programs will remain in Turner Valley despite the dissolution of the 20-year-old Literacy for Life program, but it will come at a cost.
Sheep River Library management decided to continue running four early literacy programs that operated under its roof through the Literacy For Life Foundation. The foundation announced in early December that it would cease operations at the end of 2019 due to financial difficulties.
“If we don’t have those programs running here there is no early literacy programs happening in Black Diamond and Turner Valley,” said Sheep River Library manager Jan Burney.
To keep the programs operating without funding from the foundation, library members will pay $5 more in their fees. This means annual memberships are now $15 for individuals and $25 for families – the first increase in decades, said Burney.
“Nobody can remember the last time it had gone up,” she said. “For rural libraries it’s a big chunk of our income. About three per cent of our operating budget is covered by (membership) card fees.”
Burney said when she learned the foundation would cease operating, she immediately contacted the Friends of the Library to determine what it would cost to keep former Literacy for Life employees Janine Jones and Elone McDonald onboard to continue operating the weekly programs.
The Friends then contacted Albert Gaming, Liquor and Cannabis (AGLC) to secure a casino in 2020 to help fund the programs, and were soon approved to operate in the spring – which typically brings in a profit of $40,000 to $50,000. Casino money in the past has helped fund programs, building modifications, computer equipment and technology for the library.
“It’s giving us nine months to figure out how we’re going to find the funding (going forward),” said Burney, adding some of the casino profits will also support the library’s fall Out Loud Series. “We’ll be looking at other granting sources that are typically happy to give money to literacy programs, especially early literacy. We’re not expecting the Friends to be funding it forever. This is to get us through that because we got no notice it was ending.”
The four weekly programs are Toddler Time for ages two and three featuring learning activities, songs and rhymes; Movers and Shakers for 12 to 24 months featuring songs, rhymes, story telling and reading; Natured Kids for ages three to five featuring outdoor play; and Rhythm and Rhyme for up to 12 months.
“If you can instill in kids a love of reading and books, it sets them up for life in a really good way and it increases the literacy of the entire family,” said Burney. “By having parents come into the library they get connected with other programs we’re running and it increases their literacy as well. It gives a place to socialize with other moms and it helps develop good literacy habits with their kids.”
Burney said preference will be given to residents in the immediate area, and then outside the area if space is available. The programs begin in late January.
During the past few years Jones taught the Literacy for Life programs in Turner Valley, she’s seen how it supports new parents and their young children.
“Singing rhymes and oral story telling and reading aloud are essential to helping children learn language and for their listening and concentration skills for brain development,” she said. “It teaches children to articulate words and practice the pitch and volume of language.
“When you have a new baby sometimes you don’t really know how to interact with the baby. Having all these programs are ways to have fun and interact with your baby and with the older kids too.”
Jones said the programs go beyond helping individual families. They also build community.
“It’s just so important to building community,” she said. “These programs keep generations of families coming to the library and it’s so good for community.”
Experiencing the benefits of Literacy For Life is Charlotte Lammerhirt, who joined Toddler Time and Rhythm and Rhyme with her son shortly after moving to Turner Valley about a decade ago to get out of the house and meet other parents. She said it resulted in lasting friendships.
“The friends I met through the Literacy for Life programs, now we camp and holiday together,” she said.
When Lammerhirt learned of the fate of Literacy for Life, she said she was devastated.
“It was a very important reason for young and new moms in the area to connect with people,” she said. “I was really happy to hear the library was picking up where the Literacy for Life couldn't continue, that the library recognized a need for the programs.”