It’s Family Literacy Day in Canada.
But Debbie Parent is hoping that Yukoners are able to look beyond the immediate family when it comes to literacy, today and every day of the year.
Parent, the executive director of Yukon Learn Society, is looking for volunteers to help swell her tiny but tenacious group of tutors.
Yukon Learn has a membership of about 220 people. Around 140 of those are active learners, taking classes with the nonprofit organization.
But the society only has about 30 volunteer tutors.
“We always have way more learners than we do tutors,” said Parent.
“And we survive on our volunteers, that’s the only way we can do what we do.”
Volunteer Ted Ackerman is one of those overworked volunteers.
The 60-year-old computer tech has been working with Yukon Learn for about a month now.
He volunteers every Wednesday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Yukon Learn’s computer lab.
He’s also tutoring a woman who’s trying to get her GED and just took on another student this week who wanted to learn how to use Powerpoint.
On top of all this, Ackerman also teaches four-day basic computer classes – the type of class that starts with explaining where the power button can be found.
Ackerman, who is between jobs right now, began volunteering because he had the extra time on his hands.
“It was just an excuse to get out of the house, and you always like to give back to your community where you can,” he said.
“And I’d also heard that they needed people with a background in computer skills.”
Despite all the volunteer hours Ackerman is putting in, he feels more than compensated for the work.
“It’s quite gratifying,” he said. “You’re helping people and that always makes you feel good.”
The tutoring program was started in 1983, back when it was called Project Word Power.
In the old days, it was just those basic services of matching volunteer tutors with clients who needed to learn to read and write.
Over the years, the program has grown.
Now, on top of one-on-one tutoring, Yukon Learn offers specialized classes and helps with other skills like document literacy and computer literacy.
It’s not just reading and writing anymore.
The program has also seen a large increase in the number of students, partially because of the huge increase in immigration to the territory.
Yukon Learn doesn’t receive funding to teach English as a second language – there are other programs for that.
But the tutoring program does pick up a lot of those people who fall through the cracks or have difficulty learning in the traditional classroom setting.
One-on-one classes with tutors end up being about cross-cultural communications as much as they are about conjugating verbs.
Tutors will sometimes go with their students to the grocery store, or their place of employment to help them through real-life situations.
In some cases, tutors and students strike up friendships, attending birthday parties and other events together.
Last year’s learner of the year, a Korean woman, set herself the goal of learning English well enough to work as a flight attendant.
She’s leaving the territory today to take on a job working for an airline in Qatar.
Volunteer tutors often have a wide variety of backgrounds.
“A volunteer is just somebody who really wants to help out and knows that the time they spend with someone helping them could really improve that person’s life,” said Parent.
“They don’t need a teaching background, they don’t need any of that, they just have to want to help.”
“If you have something to give, give it,” said Ackerman. “Everyone prospers if you do that.”
If you would like to volunteer your time as a tutor, contact Yukon Learn.
Contact Chris Oke at