Education not heavy burden, literacy champion says

Steve Sharratt
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Kickoff event for International Literacy Day held in Rollo Bay

Innovation and Advanced Learning Minister Allen Roach, centre, congratulates Dianne Smith and Ray Keenan, the poster advocates for literacy efforts across the province this year.

ROLLO BAY — She had two kids, little education and few prospects.

But rather than give up, Dianne Smith decided to give her world a shake.

She sought out a tutor to learn to read, earned her high school diploma the day before she turned 50, and now operates her own business with 20 employees.

“Education is not a heavy load to carry, but not being able to read or learn weighed a ton,’’ she said while speaking at the recent kickoff of  the 2012 International Literacy Day campaign here.

“Now I am the master of my own destiny.’’

That means taking care of the bills, hiring staff and ensuring those who reside in her

Smith Lodge community care facility in Charlottetown are well cared for.

The kickoff event for International Literacy Day was held in a potato warehouse of Rollo Bay Holdings owned by Alvin and Ray Keenan near Souris.

The well-known farmers are big supporters of literacy and teamed up with provincial agencies and Lori Johnston of WorkPlace Learning this past year to ensure employees had the opportunity to improve their literacy skills as part of their jobs.

“It’s impossible to do business today without the use of communication and comprehension skills and this was important to us,’’ said Ray Keenan.

“We cultivate potatoes, but we want to help cultivate education in our employees.’’

Both Smith and Keenan are the poster advocates in the new provincial literacy advertisements promoting and encouraging Islanders to take advantage of the opportunities.

Innovation and Advanced Learning Minister Allen Roach said strong literacy skills are essential in today’s world.

“It’s a big world out there and we all need the skills to compete and succeed,’’ he said. “Dianne wanted to be a positive example to her children and Alvin and Ray investing in their employees says so much about them as people.’’

A self-proclaimed literacy champion, Smith — a graduate of WorkPlace Learning — spent 17 years operating a fish stall at the Charlottetown Farmers’ Market. She was supporting and raising her children and going to night school to get her high school diploma. She had plenty of naysayers, but opted to expand her comfort zone.

Today, 10 years after opening her care facility, Smith encourages young people to stay in school and adults to step up to the challenge. She also insists on surrounding herself with positive people and is the co-author of a new book.

“I don’t want to see young people end up where I found myself and I encourage adults to face their past ghosts,’’ she said.

“You can say ‘no ... oh I can’t do that’ ... and watch four or five years of your life disappear, or you can make the first step.”

Organizations: WorkPlace Learning, Rollo Bay Holdings

Geographic location: Rollo Bay, Charlottetown

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