25 years of helping adults learn to read

The East York Learning Experience celebrated its 25th birthday in June. During those 25 years the organization has gradutated from a one-room location to more spacious lodgings. But more importantly, EYLE has helped a multitude of people graduate from a position of not being able to read or write into a world full of new opportunities.

EYLE is a non-profit organization dedicated to furthering adult literacy. It matches volunteer tutors with individuals who wish to improve their reading and writing. Math and computer skills are also part of the curriculum.

“The gift of literacy is pretty powerful,” said volunteer Bryan Blenkin, a retired IT executive who has been tutoring reading and writing for three years. “That’s what’s great about EYLE. We have the time and the resources to be able to help people learn those skills.”

The organization was created in 1987 when another program, East End Literacy, saw a need for its services in the East York community.

“We started out in an office over the CIBC at Woodbine and Danforth,” said EYLE Director, Gail McCullough. “We had three desks all pushed together and one phone, and we just passed the phone around. We had an electric typewriter.”

Resources may have been limited then but there was no shortage of inspiration and commitment. In the 22 years McCullough has been with the program, there have been many advancements, especially in technology.

“We teach computer groups. We have laptops, and many of our students use our laptops as part of their sessions. There’s a huge difference technology-wise,” said McCullough.

Sessions are held on-site to take advantage of an extensive resource collection and staff support. McCullough said the program has about 45 to 55 students at any given time, ranging from as brief as a couple of months to up to five years.

“It depends on what the student’s goals are, or what level they’re coming in at, or whether they have learning disabilities” she said. “Those students are going to be longer-term students. We also get students preparing to go into post-secondary and college programs who want to fine-tune their skills for the written entrance exam.”

One of Blenkin’s students was hoping to apply for Canadian citizenship. The two worked together intensely for about two months before she took the exam, successfully.

“She invited me to the ceremony,” he said. “I’d never been to one before and it was a really moving ceremony.

“You’re sitting beside somebody for three hours a week and you get to know who they are and a little bit about their lives and when they extend that invitation, to me that was a great gift.”

In order to volunteer, McCullough said applicants must have excellent reading and writing skills in English, be willing to make a one-year commitment, and have a lot of patience. The agency then attempts to match students with volunteers by taking into consideration the preferences of everyone involved.

“Not all volunteers are comfortable tutoring math,” she said. “We also try to look at careers. We have a number of students who want to be a Personal Support Worker, so we have a tutor who works as a nurse or in that area.”

For more information about EYLE, call 416-425-2666 or visit eyle.toronto.on.ca.

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