Rotary Club of Vancouver Funds Fostering Literacy Initiative of Decoda Literacy Solutions


Phil Webber, President of the Rotary Club of Vancouver (“RCOV”), spoke at the UNESCO Literacy Day launch of Literacy Month at the main branch of the Vancouver Public Library which was organized by Decoda Literacy Solutions (“Decoda”).

Decoda was formed by bringing together two BC literacy organizations: Literacy BC and the literacy department of 2010 Legacies Now, a community benefit which flowed out of the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics.  For 20 years, Literacy BC had offered training, tools and support to those who work in adult literacy.  In partnership with the federal and provincial governments, it raised awareness, developed policy, promoted innovation in practice, built an extensive library, and supported adult learners.  For 10 years, the literacy department of 2010 Legacies Now had partnered with the Province of British Columbia to support literacy development in more than 400 communities and neighbourhoods across BC.  Since May 30, 2011, Decoda continues the work of both organizations.

Phil began by stating the slogan for Decoda’s literacy campaign:

 “Literacy is Life” and then went on to state:

“When you teach somebody how to read, they have that for a lifetime and that ability ripples through the community, one person at a time.”

Then, in order to emphasize the importance to RCOV of its partnership with Decoda, directed at fostering literacy in BC, and the importance of literacy to Phil personally, he briefly reviewed his own family’s connections to improving literacy   and access to it.  He began by stating, “My parents taught me that there is no greater gift one can give another than education.  Once given and accepted, it can never be lost or taken away and is life changing.”

Phil’s parents, two English teachers, started work during the great depression, but by the end of the 1930’s  had qualified as teachers with provisional teaching certificates.  They had each passed grade 13, the equivalent of first year university, then called senior matriculation, and one year’s teacher training at the BC teacher’s training institute, called Normal School.  The Normal School, over two decades later was subsumed into the University of Victoria.  By the time Phil graduated from UBC in 1969 with his second degree, a Bachelor of Laws, both parents had earned not only their Bachelors of Arts but also Masters Degrees in English from UBC.   After their family moved to Vancouver in September 1952, where Phil entered grade four, he can remember Friday night pilgrimages involving walking 10 blocks with his father to the local branch of the Vancouver Public Library from which they would return with at least half a dozen books.  Both his parents were huge supporters of education and of public libraries and were prepared to make what some would regard today as economic sacrifices to that end.

By the time they were all done, Phil’s parents’ five children accounted for no less than 10 university Degrees.  His brother, Jeremy, is currently the Dean of Law at the University of Victoria, the other siblings are now retired after successful careers and every one of their children (nine in total) has at least one university degree and are contributing members of society.

Retorically, Phil asked, “Is Literacy Life?”  Clearly it is because it facilitates all learning.

Phil pointed out his daughter, Shoshanah Webber, now a partner in the Vancouver office of Dentons, the largest law firm in the world.  Shoshanah moved back to Vancouver:

·       after graduating with a BA from McGill;

·       after four years living in Japan teaching English as a second language and experiencing the challenges of living and working in an environment where the spoken and written word was unfamiliar;

·       after returning to Canada to attend law school at the University of Western Ontario; and

·       after becoming a partner in the Toronto office of another of Canada’s largest law firms. 

With Shoshanah, was her daughter, Alex, who at age four loves words, books and libraries, amongst many other things and was about to get her first library card immediately after the Decoda Literacy day launch.

Phil stated that his family was indeed blessed but none of what he had referred to in relation to his own family would have been possible without education, and without literacy, education would not be possible.

As President of the Rotary Club of Vancouver, Phil affirmed how pleased RCOV was to continue as a partner of Decoda in providing financial support for the third year running.  RCOV’s support now totals $20,000. 

Last year our Rotary Club’s donation helped Decoda in acquiring much needed books and other literacy resources to provide one-to-one tutoring for children in Grades 2 to 5, who were reading below grade level.  Decoda also provided family literacy training and materials to help parents continue their children's learning at home. The Rotary Club of Vancouver was informed by Decoda that all of the children who participated in that pilot project increased their reading levels by at least two or more levels.


Tutors in the pilot reported that the children who participated:

·       now "identify as readers ";

·       are able to understand more of what they read;

·       have increased their vocabulary;

·       are more enthusiastic about reading;

·       can see their own improvement; and

·       are more confident and able to try new words without fear of making mistakes.

As a result of the success of last year’s pilot, Decoda wants to expand the Fostering Literacy pilot to 13 new sites this Fall, and the 2017 financial  support of RCOV is provided to that end.

The Rotary Club of Vancouver has had a longstanding commitment over many years to the advancement of literacy and sees its support of Decoda as a continuation and expansion of that commitment.  For example:

·       for over 30 years, RCOV and Rotary volunteers have carried out a hands on reading assistance program at Norquay Elementary School and have made significant financial contributions to a “My first book” purchase program and/or to the Norquay School breakfast program; and


·       for a number of years RCOV had promoted CALS literacy training in Vancouver public schools.


Phil also mentioned that Rotary’s commitment to literacy goes well beyond the contributions of RCOV.  It is only one of over 32,000 Rotary Clubs world-wide which are bound together as part of Rotary International and its foundation, The Rotary Foundation.

Rotary International and The Rotary Foundation has six areas of focus for the cause it supports, and it should be noted and come as no surprise that one such area is the support of education.  In that regard, The Rotary Foundation has noted that there are more than 775 million people world-wide over the age of 15 who are illiterate. The Rotary Foundation’s goal is to strengthen the capacity of communities to support basic education and literacy, reduce gender disparity in education, and to increase adult literacy.

One might be forgiven for not realizing that we have significant literacy challenges in British Columbia, but one has to look no further than to the substantial number of refugees and other immigrants who have moved here, with little functional knowledge of English, to note one way some of our fellow Canadians have fallen through the cracks and could use a hand up.

So why partner with Decoda?  Phil had not heard of it before the RCOV became involved with it through the support of its programs and initiatives three years ago.  And, “What’s in its name?”

Decoda is derived from the word “decode,” which means to create understanding; to unravel the mystery – literacy helps us make sense of the modern world.

Decoda is the only province-wide literacy organization in British Columbia and as such provides resources, training and funds.  Decoda supports community-based literacy programs and initiatives in over 400 communities across BC. And in so doing Decoda supports children and families, youth, adults, and Aboriginal and immigrant communities in an effort to build strong individuals, strong families and strong communities.  As a non-profit organization, Decoda relies on the generosity of individual donors, corporate partners, including RCOV, and government to fund literacy work.

Decoda’s stated Mission is to work to increase the literacy and learning skills of children and families, youth, adults and seniors to improve their quality of life at home, at work and in the community.

Decoda’s Vision:

A British Columbia where everyone has the literacy skills they need.