Stephanie Miller was an idealistic undergrad when she founded the first campus-based literacy project in Canada at McGill in 1992. Canada’s oldest literacy organization, Frontier College, heard about Miller’s efforts and partnered with her.
Frontier College was established in 1899. Volunteer tutors work with community partners to give people the skills and confidence they need to reach their potential and fully contribute to society. Research has shown that knowing how to read helps people stay healthy, find work, succeed in school and break out of the vicious circle of poverty.
Since Miller’s early efforts, Frontier College’s literacy tutoring programs have spread to the Montreal’s four universities, as well as Quebec City and Sherbrooke. Along the way, hundreds of people have been trained to teach basic literacy, with about 20 McGillians now working as literacy volunteers. Approximately 360 volunteers work with 1,500 children, adolescents and adults on a yearly basis.
“I learned all about the College during this partnership while I was at McGill,” says Miller. “When I graduated, I’ll never forget chatting with the then-President of Frontier College, John O’Leary, and asking him ‘Can I secure a career in literacy and also afford to eat?’ We had a good laugh and he assured me I could. I then raised just short of a million dollars through a grant and moved to Toronto to roll out the project across the country. It was a very exciting time.”
Giovanna Santullo is Executive Director of McGill’s Internal Audit Department and a volunteer Board member of Frontier College.
“I think most people would be surprised to hear that in Canada, as many as 4.3 million people are living with poverty. Research strongly suggests that improving literacy rates is one of the best ways to combat poverty,” says Santullo. “I am truly honoured to call myself a volunteer Board member and to be able to contribute in some small way. The biggest impact comes from the volunteer tutors. McGill should be very proud of all its current students for their continued support of such an important cause.”
Miller now lives in Connecticut where she runs a foundation focussing on early childhood education. “When we are young people we are so busy trying to make our way and secure a big career, but serving others is the greatest personal and professional career path to pursue,” she says. “Students have big dreams and ideals about social justice. We need to clear the path for them to pursue those goals. They really can change the world.”
Frontier College is recruiting volunteers for its Montreal chapter in the following programs:
- Literacy Tutoring with adults (one-on-one and small groups), to help participants improve their literacy skills ;
- Homework Clubs to provide academic support to children living in low income neighborhoods;
- Reading Circles which are designed to develop a love of reading in children.