Making the mad dash against illiteracy

This blog post was provided by fundraiser Pat Flewwelling.

Giving Life - Graphic Design & Photography - Making the mad dash against illiteracy (featured image)

I never used to consider illiteracy a problem in Canada.  We live in a country where education is publically funded, while simultaneously living in a time where a flurry of knowledge is at our fingertips.  But to my surprise, I soon came to realize how big of an illiteracy issue there is when I serendipitously came across the Muskoka Novel Marathon back in 2009 while surfing the web.  At the time, I was simply looking to participate in a writing event where I could meet people who shared similar interests, but when I learned more about illiteracy and how I could raise funds simply by doing something I love to do, I chose to sign up and do my part.

At my first Muskoka Novel Marathon, I had only thought I was going to enjoy a mini-vacation, write a new book and support a worthy cause.   It was good enough for me and I was happy to participate.  I even ended up raising about a hundred bucks for the cause and drove ten hours from Montreal, Quebec to Huntsville, Ontario to write my little heart out over 72 hours.  But by Sunday night, I finished the marathon with a brand new story complete with a beginning, an end, and three hundred pages in between, and met so many kindred spirits, some of whom are among my closest friends seven marathons later.

But that weekend sparked a drive in me to do something more.  It was that weekend when a representative from the Muskoka Literacy Program told us with tears brimming in her eyes how much she appreciated our efforts.  Stopping often to catch her breath, she explained how critical a contribution we have made in the lives of others, and because of us, tutors now had the materials they needed to keep teaching.  They would now have pencils, workbooks, PCs, software, desks, chairs and utilities.  She also told us some staggering statistics:

  • 42 percent of Canadians – equaling to 2 out of every 5 people – have low literacy skills and are unable to fill out government paperwork, understand a safety manual, or even follow the instructions on a child’s prescription label; and
  • A 1 percent increase in national literacy rates could generate $18 billion more in economic growth, and yet there was little no provincial or federal assistance for literacy programs.

Something had to be done — so I became a literacy champion.

Marathoning Literacy

Since my first year partaking in the Muskoka Novel Marathon, I have not only continued to support and participate in each writing marathon since, I have also been able to see the impact our collective efforts have made in the lives of others.

Pat (left) with Nora (centre) and Nancy from the YMCA of Simcoe-Muskoka
Pat (left) with Nora (centre) and Nancy from the YMCA of Simcoe-Muskoka

Two years ago, I had the extraordinary honour of sitting with one particular newcomer at the marathon.  Her name was Nora, a mother and Muskoka Literacy Program student who came to write her very first book.  She had been a student of those very same literacy programs I had come to support, and now she was raising funds on her own and writing her very own story to pay it forward.  It also just so happens that the day before the marathon, Nora had just accepted an employment offer as a teaching assistant at a local Montessori school.  How could I possibly stop advocating for this important cause when I have seen how I can help drastically change someone’s future?  It’s truly beautiful to witness, and that is exactly why I just recently took part in this year’s Muskoka Novel Marathon this past July.

This year, we had forty writers putting pen to paper writing everything from kids’ books to horror novels and everything in between. When we weren’t writing, we were walking around scenic Huntsville, eating, chatting, taking in Huntsville’s annual Nuit Blanche art’s festival, and getting to know each other.  As for my story, I am just about halfway through at more than 40,000 words, and ultimately, I would like to finish the book and spend the next couple of years refining and editing the story before trying to find a publisher.

In the meantime, I am planning to apply as a literacy tutor myself, and I will continue to advocate on behalf of this important cause.  But not only will I continue to take part in future Muskoka Novel Marathons, I will also keep bringing CanadaHelps along for the ride in my quest against illiteracy.

Fundraising from Coast to Coast

When I had started fundraising for the Muskoka Novel Marathon back in 2009, I ran into a bit of a problem; many of my personal friends were spread out from coast to coast, and all of them were willing to help but none were able to send money. Few wanted to send cheques, and some donations arrived too late.  No one could donate by credit card or online, and because of such limitations, I would have happily raised $450.00 in spare change and cheques.  It wasn’t until the YMCA of Simcoe-Muskoka adopted their current literacy program when they introduced us to CanadaHelps, and it was only then that I had the ability to collect donations from Halifax to Vancouver and every province in between.  Since using CanadaHelps, I have raised over $1,500.00 each year for the past three years, and our marathon totals have increased exponentially from $6,000 per year to nearly $25,000 — imagine how much we can do for the community now! We not only have the capacity to simply improve literacy skills, our successful fundraising efforts have allowed us to expand and address numeracy, computer and resume-writing skills as well. Every penny is put toward improving the employability of the citizens of Simcoe-Muskoka, and so much of it is coming in from all corners of the country thanks to  Distance and payment methods were no longer an issue.  You better believe I’ll be using from now on, because now I can bank on the power of a nation to change lives for the better.

To learn more about the Muskoka Novel Marathon, visit their webpage or their CanadaHelps Fundraising Page. To learn more about YMCA of Simcoe-Muskoka, please visit their charity profile>>

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