In 2009, the Yamba Uniting Church was seeking a mission direction which could meet a need in its local community. A look at the long-term plan for the Clarence Valley, together with strategic conversations with local agencies, identified low literacy skills among the local indigenous people leading to high unemployment and related issues as a critical concern.
A process began of listening and planning with local elders and, with support and funding from the Uniting Aboriginal and Islander Christian Congress (UAICC), “Reading for Life” was launched as a pilot program in Maclean in late 2010.
The program uses everyday and creative resources such as newspapers, Scrabble and other games, and shapes its format to the identified needs of the participants, such as learning to drive. Six adults are supported by two teachers who have strong experience in working with indigenous people and with people who have learning needs. Wider support is offered by a team of volunteers who prepare food, provide transport and give one-on-one care and focus during the sessions. A key goal is to foster community within the group through mutual sharing, understanding and respect.
In 2011, the project was successful in gaining SMRF funding to enable the program to be offered in Yamba, Maclean and Grafton for one year.
It has been a significant learning experience for team members as they have become aware of the deep pain of those they seek to assist but also of their great joy in the support offered and achievements made possible.
Currently the team is offering the second programs in Yamba and Maclean and the first in Grafton. There are plans in 2012 to modify the structure to a more intensive format and to offer follow-up programs for those who wish to extend their learning. “Reading for Life” is looking at its options for future funding support and how to best move forward in positive ways. The program’s value was affirmed at the May graduation ceremony in Maclean when Senior Elder, the Rev. Lenore Parker, thanked the Yamba Church for its contribution and commitment, and stated that “… it has also given participants hope and confidence — and brought us closer together with reconciliation”.