Autumn Newsletter 2023


Introducing the 2023 United for Literacy Award Recipients

United for Literacy thrives because people believe in our mission of using literacy as a tool to change lives for the better. Each year, we celebrate the people and organizations who are at the heart of everything we do by presenting them with national awards. We are honoured that these recipients have chosen to support literacy, and we value their belief in United for Literacy.

Read the whole story.

Being named the Companion of United for Literacy is the highest recognition the organization confers upon an individual. The 2023 Companion Award recipient is Bruce Munro Wright, who has been a supporter of United for Literacy for many years, including nine years on the Board of Directors, with two years in the role of Chair.

The Fitzpatrick Award honours an organization that shows leadership, commitment, and/or financial support to the cause of literacy. The McCain Foundation is the 2023 Fitzpatrick Award recipient for their work and contributions to literacy in New Brunswick. For almost 10 years, they have supported Summer Literacy Camps in Atlantic Canada, in partnership with Indigenous communities.

The Joyce Matthews Award is United for Literacy’s annual volunteer award, named in honour of former United for Literacy Board Member, donor, friend, and Reading Circle volunteer, Joyce Matthews, who passed away in 2018. The 2023 Joyce Matthews Award recipient is Carey Austin, a volunteer with the Families Learning Together program in Scarborough, Ontario. 

In this newsletter, you will find:

  • An article about the importance of Youth Volunteering by United for Literacy President, Mélanie Valcin; Megan Conway, CEO of Volunteer Canada; and Franca Gucciardi, CEO of the McCall MacBain Foundation
  • An informative Heritage Moment from James Morrison
  • The 2023 Annual Report, including an inspiring story about our work in Iqaluit
  • How a simple gift can have a profound impact 
  • An invitation to take part in Giller Light Bash activities
  • And more!

Don't forget! November is Financial Literacy Month. You're never too young or too old to make sense of money and finances. We are hosting a series of Facebook Lives exploring important topics:

  • November 9: Budgeting: From Basic to Advanced
  • November 16: Investing for Young People
  • November 23: Credit Cards and Debt

Please read this excellent article by Maureen Anglin, Regional Director, Ontario, about how our resources can help you and your family increase your financial literacy.

Volunteer Spotlight

Youth Volunteering: Let’s make space for our young people again! 

Volunteers are the heart of United for Literacy. Each year, over 1,600 volunteers give thousands of hours to ensure no one is left behind when it comes to literacy. They tutor math, reading, and writing; read stories; help with special events; and much more. Youth (15 to 30) comprise 68% of the volunteer base of United for Literacy. These volunteers are often university students from all four corners of the country.

As we recover from COVID-19, we realize that we need to try new ways of recruiting and supporting young volunteers. We have 124 years of providing meaningful volunteering opportunities for Canadian youth. But what worked in the past doesn't always work today. We are always searching for new and innovative ways to connect with youth and inspire them to volunteer.

If you are a young person who wants to make a lasting impact on your community, please join us. Working with others is a chance to grow as a person while you help to transform the lives of those you serve. Together, we can build a society where everyone can access knowledge, and every individual has the chance to thrive.

Read the article about youth volunteering.

In Case You Missed It: Our National Forum

National Forum on the AI Revolution and Literacy

Buzzwords such as ChatGPT, chatbots, and virtual assistants have started to be commonly used, but what do they mean and how do all these new technologies impact us—either positively or negatively? As AI becomes more common in schools and in the workplace, everyone will need to develop strong digital literacy skills to keep up with academic and career demands. On October 5, we hosted an online forum to learn the components of AI, its role in education and in business, and how to equip people with the knowledge and skills they need to understand, use, and interact with AI responsibly, ethically, and effectively. 

Thank you to our host, Martine St-Victor, and to our panelists: Valentine Goddard, Matthew Johnson, Ruqia Khan, Ocean Pottle-Shiwak, Yuanda Zheng.

Read the discussion paper by clicking here.

Watch the recording by clicking here.

History Spotlight

Jim Morrison's Heritage Moment

United for Literacy Historian James Morrison shares this Heritage Moment with you:


John O’Leary worked for Frontier College

for over 30 years and was President from 1990-2008. Early in his career, he worked in the Prison Literacy program and while President began the Students for Literacy and Reading Tents initiatives. He was awarded an honorary degree from Carleton University (his alma mater ) for his lifetime commitment to literacy. John passed away in 2020 and below is my contribution to the celebration of his life held that year.

President John Daniel O'Leary

John had a tremendous interest in Frontier College history. We discussed it frequently over breakfast at his favourite Fran’s restaurant on St Clair Ave. in Toronto. He would often say that if Frontier College had started in the United States everybody would know about it.

He was very pleased that we were able to mark the first President, Alfred Fitzpatrick (1862-1936), with the plaque at the front gate of Gzowski House in Toronto and also our ongoing efforts to preserve and present the long, at times difficult, history of the organization. When I interviewed John a decade ago, he articulated a perspective on why and how the College has survived. With the tremendous technological changes we see today, especially AI, his words are prescient and his challenge to us noteworthy:


Literacy has to be a continuous wave of innovation, and I think we get discouraged by the fact that some particular approach did not last longer than it did. But I think taking Canadian society into account we really have no choiceWe have to find ways to reach other people who are not being reached by the existing structure of society.


So raise a glass to John Daniel O’Leary.


James H. Morrison

Labourer-Teacher, 1964 and 1965

James Morrison's new book, The Right to Read Social Justice, Literacy, and the Creation of Frontier College / The Alfred Fitzpatrick Story (Nimbus Publishing), tells the story of the founder of United for Literacy and the role of literacy in a just society.

Learn more about our history!

Program Spotlight

In Case You Missed It: United for Literacy's 2023 Annual Report

In the 2023 Annual Report, you'll learn about our exciting new programs in Nunavik and St. Mary's First Nation; the ways we are innovating to reach more adult learners; and meet some of the people who are working to improve literacy in Canada, like Patrick.

For Instructor-Coordinator Patrick, a taxi is the perfect place to reach people. Patrick quickly established himself in Iqaluit, meeting local taxi drivers who are Inuit, First Nation, and newcomers. Recognizing their need and desire to learn English but understanding they work 12-hour shifts 6-7 days a week, he decided to ride along with them to deliver language lessons.

Instructor-Coordinator Patrick

on the job in Iqaluit

"I teach drivers for Caribou Cabs. I have just begun teaching a woman named Selma from Ethiopia. I sit in the front seat, and, for 45 to 75 minutes, we talk. After each lesson, I evaluate my notes and provide her with handouts to help improve her grammar and vocabulary. I have also provided her with a notebook for homework and a USB of resources for her to use and enjoy. Selma returns it to me weekly so I can delete and update it so she will eventually have a library of resources." –Patrick, Instructor–Coordinator

Many of the drivers say they have benefitted from interacting with Patrick. Newcomer participants explain how he makes learning fun, how much they have learned about Canadian culture, and how they have gained confidence in speaking to people whose first language is English. (This work is made possible with funding from the Government of Canada’s Skills for Success program)

Last year, United for Literacy reached 33,698 learners in 191 communities. With your ongoing support, we can do more for more people. Please let your friends, colleagues, and networks know about the important work United for Literacy is doing and our urgent need for volunteers, donors, and partners.

Read the Annual Report

Philanthropy Spotlight

You can make the world a better place

We live in a world filled with fires and floods, public health emergencies, and economic insecurity. It can feel scary at times, I know. I'm back home now, but, for a few weeks this summer, I was evacuated from my home in Yellowknife because of wildfires. It was a time of great uncertainty. But during this instability, I knew that when I returned to work, I would be helping to make life more secure for people. You can do that, too, through the gift of literacy.

intertwined hands form a circle in rainbow colours

Instructor-Coordinator Keith with a learner in Yellowknife

United for Literacy puts learners first.

My name is Keith, and I'd like to tell you about some of the wonderful people I work with as an Instructor Coordinator for United for Literacy.

Yellowknife is an incredible place to live. It has a young population; the average age is 35! About half of the people are from Indigenous groups, and there is a rich and diverse newcomer population, including people from Korea, Bangladesh, Mexico, Uganda, and the Philippines—to name just a few.

There is a wide range of learning and language needs, both here and across Canada. Many newcomers are interested in passing the Canadian English Language Proficiency Index Program (CELPIP) and Canadian Citizenship exams. In the past year, two learners have passed the language qualifications and three are preparing for the test. Along with teaching the facts needed to pass the test, we also encourage civic engagement:


  • Voting
  • Volunteering
  • Running as an elected representative

People who have lived their whole lives here, but who have faced barriers to learning, need support, too, including skills upgrading and having one-to-one support on their learning journey.

I bet you know how good it feels for someone to encourage and support you when times are tough. People who struggle with reading comprehension may ask for support in


  • understanding letters from government agencies or phone and utility companies.
  • reading labels and finding the items they want to purchase at the grocery store.
  • navigating the post office, including filling out the correct documentation for sending items overseas.
  • going to the bike shop to buy a new bike or get theirs repaired for the first time. 
  • letter and journal writing.
  • obtaining a driver's license.

These tasks are part of our learners' daily lives. Knowing that I can help things like these seem less intimidating and encourage people to feel more confident and secure makes me feel good. You can share this spirit of inclusion and encouragement by donating to United for Literacy today.

This summer during the wildfires, we saw how urgently people require strong literacy skills. Imagine knowing that you are in danger, but not having the reading skills to find the information on how to get to safety. When day-to-day activities cause worry, finding shelter, transportation, and healthcare during an emergency may seem insurmountable.

United for Literacy staff, volunteers, and partners are there to meet people where they are and create safe and welcoming conditions for learning.

All our programming is provided at no cost to families, thanks to the support of donors like you.

You can take pride in knowing you can bring some peace of mind and stability by helping to build healthier, safer, and stronger communities. I'm confident that if the learners we work with daily had a chance, they would thank you personally.

Donate now

Holiday Greeting Cards for Student Success

We're pleased to tell you that, this year, United for Literacy is the beneficiary of The Printing House’s 2023 Charitable Greeting Card Campaign. 100% of the net proceeds from card sales will be donated to our National Student Success Programs for Children and Youth. Choose from 20 designs by Canadian artists.

Purchase your greeting cards and help support United for Literacy this holiday season.

Event Spotlight

Giller Light Bash

In keeping with tradition, we're getting ready to celebrate #CanLit and the Scotiabank Giller Prize.

This year, we are hosting a fantastic auction, with goods and services from local businesses across Canada. We will also host fun contests, games, giveaways, book defenses and even hear from some of the nominated shortlisted authors! All proceeds support United for Literacy's free, inclusive literacy and numeracy programs throughout Canada

Our online auction will run from Monday, November 6 and close on Monday, November 13, 2023 at 10:30 p.m. ET. We'll have sports packages, gift cards, and much more! Stay tuned for details.

New this year, we are hosting an online 50/50 raffle for anyone living in Ontario. 50% of the proceeds will go to one lucky winner, and the other 50% will go towards delivering books to underserved areas.

Be sure to follow us social media on Monday, November 13 at 9:00 p.m. ET as we watch the 2023 Scotiabank Giller Prize broadcast on CBC and the free CBC Gem streaming service, where the winner will be announced. 

Follow our social accounts for everything Giller Light

Instagram: @gillerlightbash

Twitter: @Gillerlight

Visit gillerlightbash.ca for more information


1-800-555-6523 | [email protected]

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