A community of learners

The Winnipeg Foundation

Westgrove provides educational opportunities for adult learners.

For Ginger Kithithee, going back to school through Westgrove Learning Centre meant more than just gaining credits – it meant gaining self-confidence.

“I have social anxiety, so being out in public is really hard for me,” says Ms. Kithithee. “[Westgrove] really helped me break out of my shell. I’m able to get out more and do more in the community.”

Based in a renovated unit at a Manitoba Housing Complex in Charleswood, Westgrove Learning Centre was established in 2009, within the complex’s Family Resource Centre. The program operates Monday through Thursday mornings, with a classroom on the top level and child care on the main floor.

Learners at Westgrove are at a wide range of levels; from those who are learning to speak, read and write in English as an additional language, to those who are working toward their Mature Student High School Diploma or are upgrading current credentials, to pursue post-secondary education.

“We have students who come just to be part of a group,” says Valerie Christie, Westgrove Learning Centre Coordinator. “We try to accommodate just about everybody’s needs.”

Adult learners can face a variety of barriers, including anxiety, mental health issues and child care needs. The work of the Family Resource Centre helps provide wraparound supports for learners and their families through counselling, a food bank, family fun nights, and community kitchen programming.

“Here, students live together in a community,” says Katherine Johnston, Westgrove Learning Centre’s Instructor. “They really know how to work together; there’s a larger sense of support and community here.”

Although attendance levels fluctuate – at its peak, the program averaged 10 learners, and currently averages four – the impact of the program extends well beyond the classroom.

It’s [almost] like a small family.

Ginger Kithithee
Westgrove Learning Centre participant

“One mom couldn’t read the letters that came home from her son’s classroom,” Ms. Christie says. “For her to go from that spot in her life to being able to read her child bedtime stories... this is the kind of thing that keeps me going every day.”

Families also benefit from Westgrove’s programming. Ms. Kithithee’s daughter is in the early literacy program, and her teenage son is moving forward with his education by taking part in the classroom.

“Because of his anxiety and ADHD, a normal school setting does not work for him,” Ms. Kithithee says. “[Westgrove] has been amazing – he’s communicating more with people – you would talk to him and he wouldn’t even say one word. Now, he’s more vibrant.”

Dedicated volunteers are the driving force behind Westgrove Learning Centre, working with students one-on-one and writing grant proposals and reports. The program also receives additional supports from agencies including Family Dynamics, Manitoba Education and Training, and Manitoba Employment and Income Assistance.

Westgrove was at risk of closing in 2016 when its funding structures changed, but staff, volunteers and members of the community worked together to raise funds and keep the program going.

Through a partnership with Grace Community Church, Westgrove received a community grant from The Winnipeg Foundation that supports its operations from February to June. A Literacy for Life grant also supports its early literacy programming.

“That’s basically our lifeblood,” says volunteer Maureen Barchyn. “Without The Winnipeg Foundation, this program would not be here.”

Ms. Kithithee is now taking courses online through Red River College with the hopes of pursuing further studies in accounting. She credits the relaxed, welcoming environment of Westgrove for her success.

“It doesn’t have that classroom feel,” says Ms. Kithithee. “The instructors are all very supportive, very helpful. They push you where you need to be, but not so much where you feel overwhelmed. They’re so open. You can talk to them.”

“It’s [almost] like a small family.”


Organization:

  • Grace Community Church (in collaboration with Westgrove Learning Centre)

Programs:

  • Adult literacy programming
  • Family Literacy programming
  • Community Family Learning Olympics
  • Professional development for three staff/volunteers

Grants:

  • $75,000 ($25,000 in each of 2017, 2018 and 2019), drawn from the James A. and Muriel S. Richardson Trust, Community Building Fund, Darcy and Myrtle Sundberg Education Trust Fund, Haraldur Victor Vidal Fund, Carrie Elizabeth Dalgliesh Memorial Fund, Taylor Hope Fund, Beatrice and Walter Noyes Memorial Fund, Gladys Best Fund, and the Employment Projects of Winnipeg Fund
  • $8,000 ($4,000 each in 2017 and 2019) drawn from The Foundation’s Literacy for Life Fund
  • $500, drawn from The Foundation’s Professional Development Grants Fund

This story is featured in the Spring 2019 issue of our Working Together magazine. Download or view the full issue on our Publications page.

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