Reading between the lines

By Maia Odegaard, Marketing and Communications

Think about all of the things you read before you even arrived at work this morning: the newsfeed on your phone, the expiration date on a carton of milk, the text splashed across bus shelter advertisements. You probably didn’t notice how much you were reading. Now imagine how different your morning would have been without that essential skill we so easily take for granted.  

As this national literacy organization found, “one in five Canadians struggles with reading, writing or math, and millions more do not have the essential skills to succeed in today’s economy.” Enter the Douglas College I-CARE Literacy Program, which provides one-on-one tutoring for reading and writing and serves approximately 30 to 50 adults each year with the help of roughly 40 literacy mentors from around the Lower Mainland. This diverse group of volunteers includes one Douglas College student who gives his time, even while juggling a full course load, part-time job and other commitments.

Dustin has been an I-CARE mentor for two years

“I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do when I graduated, and teaching was something I always considered,” says Dustin G. “I saw it as a great opportunity to help someone and to work on my own personal goals, seeing whether I wanted to take on the challenge of teaching as a profession.”

While Dustin decided not to become a teacher – he’s now studying Political Science at Douglas College – he’s dedicated to helping his learner achieve her goal of becoming a confident reader and writer. “I’m committed to staying with I-CARE until I have one learner who’s satisfied,” he says.

Dustin has been a volunteer for close to two years and has worked with the same learner the entire time. They have reached several milestones together. “We’ve had a couple of firsts,” he says. “The first full paragraph that we wrote – she wrote, actually. I’m just there to help or point out a missing letter – that was great.” Now, whenever they hit a roadblock, he’s able to point to that achievement and say, “You wrote this. Don’t forget that you wrote this, and it’s very well written.”

The learners vary in age and background, with roughly half of them having grown up in Canada. Over the past 40 years, Vancouver’s population has changed and as such, the I-CARE Program’s clientele have changed, too.  

“Quite a few of our learners are people who had no opportunity to go to school as children and have struggled for a long time,” says Nancy Walker, I-CARE Coordinator. “Their spoken English is very good. They’ve been working for a long time and raising children, who have helped them improve their English. But reading and writing don’t come by osmosis.”

If you’re a Douglas College student interested in becoming a tutor with the I-CARE Program, email Nancy ( or call 604 527 5409 to find out when the next tutor training session is happening.

“The act of giving back to the community is really great,” says Dustin. “To be able to apply knowledge that I take for granted every day and help make another person’s life better, it’s very fulfilling.”

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