Below is the feature article published in the December 2017 issue of the Bluffs Monitor – a community publication.
LEARNING PARTNERS FOR 35 YEARS
Each weekday morning, a steady stream of adults can be seen coming to the doors of Scarborough Bluffs United Church, at Kingston Road and Scarborough Golf Club Road. Some arrive on foot; some by bus. All are entering with hopes of attaining their goals of improved reading, writing and numeracy skills that will lead them to better educational and employment opportunities as well as greater personal independence and civic engagement.
The history of adult learning (Essential Skills Upgrading program, formerly Literacy and Basic Skills) in south-east Scarborough cannot be told without recognizing the collaborative efforts and mutual contributions that have existed between the church and the program for 35 years.
In January 1982 the Outreach Committee of Scarborough Bluffs United Church (formerly Washington United) received a letter from a local community agency asking for their support in establishing a one-to-one literacy program in Scarborough for adults who were not able to attend class in one of the school board’s literacy classrooms.
Starting with the philosophy that ‘literacy is a fundamental human right’ and the desire to provide learning opportunities to those who often found themselves marginalized, isolated, and lacking adequate employment and educational opportunities, a long-lasting partnership was formed.
An advisory board was established. Grants were written and eventually approved, books, supplies and furniture were scrounged, volunteers were recruited and newly retired men in the congregation readied the space for the 1-1 office and resource centre. By September 1982, tutors had been trained and the program had 25 active learner/tutor pairs and more on a waiting list. The TDSB agreed to hire a staff person for 18 hours a week. The church provided office space, tutoring space and space for workshops and special events. Small grants were received to cover other costs. With that, the program was off and running!
Within two years there were learners who were ready to move onto a classroom but they were hesitant to leave the warmth and welcome of the church. Once again, with the help of church members, another room was refurbished and the first classroom opened. Today, funded by the Ministry of Advanced Education and Skills Development, the tutoring program is still thriving, learners are now accommodated in 4 classrooms and evidence of that early bond is still seen in learners’ eagerness to help church members with the annual church bazaar (for which they receive ‘early bird’ shopping privileges!) and their anticipation of church events such as the yearly book sale.
Much has changed since then, but the shared purpose of the partnership remains unchanged. Throughout Scarborough, students from both past and present have said “I go to the church, you know, the one on the corner….across from the pub”. What matters is that in a corner of an often troubled world, for the past 35 years, a faith community and an educational institution have offered a safe, welcoming, supportive environment in which all are welcomed, no matter one’s faith or ethnicity, and lives can be truly changed and enriched.