Longtime volunteer Thornley Darlington hands a book to fellow volunteer Susan Castonguay at the Literacy Central Vancouver Island's bookstore in Nanaimo.

Longtime volunteer Thornley Darlington hands a book to fellow volunteer Susan Castonguay at the Literacy Central Vancouver Island's bookstore in Nanaimo.

Nanaimo literacy organization relies on volunteers

NANAIMO – Literacy Central Vancouver Island celebrates its 25th anniversary with an event at Bowen Park.

Walk into the Literacy Central Vancouver Island’s bookstore on Commercial Street and there’s a good chance you will encounter long-time volunteer Susan Castonguay.

Over the last 14 years, Castonguay has been donating her time to sorting and selling books, as well as training newer volunteers at the downtown bookstore, which also serves Literacy Central’s education centre.

Castonguay is just one of the more 200 people who volunteer with Literacy Central Vancouver Island, which provides a range of literacy services for individuals and families.

“We take reading and writing and arithmetic for granted, but you know when I first started here … it was 33.3 per cent of British Columbians that were classified as illiterate,” Castonguay said.

On Friday (Sept. 23), Literacy Central will be holding its 25th anniversary celebration at Bowen Park Auditorium beginning at 5:30 p.m.

The event, which is also a fundraiser, will be hosted by CBC comedians Bob Robertson and Linda Cullen and features a three-course dinner as well as live music from the Wellington Secondary School jazz program. The event’s guest speaker is John Dooley, the former mayor of Nelson.

Michele Hillier, executive director at Literacy Central, said Dooley will share his inspirational story of coming to Canada as an illiterate Irish immigrant to becoming the mayor of Nelson.

“He came over to Canada and was totally illiterate … so we thought he would be really great as a speaker,” she said.

Literacy Central was first established in 1991 and has since partnered with various organizations, including Vancouver Island University and Tillicum Lelum. It also offers a range of literacy programs, free tutoring services and English classes to new Canadians.

“We’re doing English practice groups and we are working with some of the Syrian refugees,” she said.

Hiller said credits the longterm success of Literacy Central to its roughly 200 volunteers.

“We rely an awful lot on volunteers,” she said. “I am blown away by the people who volunteer here.”

For Castonguay, the best part about being a volunteer, is interacting with people and seeing those who have struggled with literacy transform into more confident individuals.

“You see them come in to apply and they lack in confidence. They lack self-esteem and they shuffle in the door with their head down,” she said. “As soon as they start learning and realizing that they are not stupid, they’ve just missed something along the way, they all of the sudden start walking straighter and they hold their head up and start looking you in the eye.”

Tickets to the 25th anniversary celebrations are $75 each. For more information, please visit http://www.literacycentralvi.org.