Our local literacy society provides some services that, to my mind, the library should provide, such as storytimes -- but cannot, because we lack adequate resources. But it also provides services that are beyond our scope, like in-school tutoring, adult computer training, book giveaways, family literacy days, and other important literacy-focused programs.
LLS is a small but mighty collection of dedicated, focused, community-minded activists who know how to get things done. Recently the LLS coordinator asked board members to help interview candidates for a post-secondary educational opportunity. The same call went out last year, but I was too busy to participate. This year the ask came at the perfect time, and I jumped on the opportunity.
What drives the success of our LLS -- and many other excellent local organizations -- is people who are always alert for opportunities, and know how to respond quickly and effectively. In this case, they applied for and received funding for ten students to attend the local college for a one-year course to become an educational assistant (EA) or community support worker (CSW). [For US readers, a college is a post-secondary institution distinct from a university.]
EAs work one-on-one with students with special needs, helping them succeed in school. CSWs play a similar role with adults in the community, helping them live independently. Those are both important community jobs, but this diploma goes much further. It opens a huge array of employment possibilities, and can also be used as a building block towards other degrees in education or social work.
Education + jobs + support workers = win-win-win
The purpose of the interviews was to find ten applicants who would be most likely to succeed in the program. Of the ten grant recipients from last year, eight are working full-time, and two went on for further education: an unqualified success.
In our small, remote communities, resources are scarce, and jobs are practically nonexistent. Most available jobs are precarious -- casual, on-call, very limited. Many folks juggle several jobs in order to survive. Of course, small towns aren't the only place this happens. But here, this is (almost) all that's available.
Most of the people in the program are already working as EAs or CSWs, but without a diploma, they earn less and are only eligible for casual and on-call work. The diploma course leads directly to permanent employment and an opportunity to advance through a salary grid.
As it creates jobs in the community, it also creates more trained workers to assist children and adults who need support. The value of this cannot be overstated.
In keeping with the college's and province's mandates, the course has a special focus on the needs of Indigenous children and adults in care. Also hugely important for our community.
Over the course of three days, we listened to candidates' stories -- why they wanted to be part of the program, their career goals, how the program would advance their goals. Each applicant was a caring, dedicated public worker who wants to serve their community. And each was hard-working, striving person, juggling work, family, and their own education.
The funding (a combination of federal and provincial money) will pay for tuition and textbooks for the EA/CSW degree, and includes some supports to eliminate other obstacles, such as a tech, transportation, or work attire. I've heard so many stories of students who received tuition assistance, yet were still unable to attend school because they couldn't afford textbooks or other expenses. This program is designed to work.