When you know that nearly half Ontario’s adults have major trouble reading or understanding numbers, it’s a sobering thought. Nearly half. Forty-six percent.

For Michèle Newton, this fact alone is enough reason for the energy that’s gone into the Road to Reading Festivals which are happening concurrently this Sunday (today) in Barrie, Alliston, Midland, Gravenhurst.

Hundreds of volunteer authors, readers, puppeteers, musicians, and tutors will be at Barrie’s Southshore Community Centre to put words to music, to celebrate communicating, to make reading (and numeracy) fun.

This festival is a bit of a miracle, if we back up to its beginning. First, it’s funded not only through a job creation grant by Human Resources Development Canada, but through a Trillium Foundation grant that came from a proposal by five different literacy groups. Imagine the cooperation that occurred to get one proposal together for five different literacy groups... Barrie, South Muskoka, South Simcoe, Simcoe-Muskoka, and Midland.

The proposal dreams a little... of a festival that celebrates numbers and letters, that comes to life with music and performers, that involves writers reading from their work and young people sharing their creativity. It involves families and picnics and hot dogs and candy floss. It sees high profile people sitting among children and adults, reading and laughing. It sees people who can’t read approaching tutors and signing up to change their lives. It involves people with time and ability signing on to be tutors, to help move that percentage from 46 downwards.

For Michèle, moving to Barrie with a marketing background involving people and concepts, being the event coordinator for today’s festival has been a real eye opener. “One of the biggest surprises in pulling this together has been the community support. I had faith in the event when I first heard about it, but when I went out into the community to get authors, sponsorship, entertainers, I couldn’t believe the support. It’s been a snowball and its impacting everything that’s happening on Sunday.”

For instance, many businesses tossed their financial and promotional support behind the project. And organizations like Barrie Public Library jumped in by writing a puppet show called The ABC Dragon which they will present.

The other thing that surprised Michèle is that most people don’t even know that literacy is an issue for so many people... “when you talk to people it staggers them that there’s such a large percentage of people using coping skills to get through their lives and their work. What pressure!”

“Reading, writing, numeracy are problems for 46% of adults in the province. That means just knowledge of basic human rights, filling in forms, using bank machines, knowing what their rights are... these are problems nearly half Ontario adults have trouble with,” says Michèle.

She’s hoping the Road to Reading Festival will do three things...

First, raise awareness that literacy is an issue, so the general public understands the problems surrounding literacy.

Second, they want to create an environment where everyone is welcomed, (whether challenged or not). Literacy learners may be able to touch somebody’s life and get them some mentoring and coaching help.

Third, there’s always a need for more tutors, and frequently we have a long list of adult learners and waiting to be match to a tutor.

She feels they’ll meet their goals on Sunday... the Southshore Community Centre will be jammed inside and out with 20 tables of used books for sale, musical acts, clowns and magic shows, performances for everyone, and authors who are giving their time to read from their work... Trudee Romanek, Derwin Mak, Mark Leslie Lefebvre, Loris Lesynski, Anne Carter. And Karen Alison and Kathy Raymond will read from How to Stay Healthy and Still Eat Chocolate!

Five grade eight students will read from their book, I Hate Vegetables!

The day begins with free Books for Breakfast, and performers that bring books to life in Alliston, Gravenhurst and Midland. At noon, buses will bring people from those communities to the main festival in Barrie and until 5 pm you can expect the south shore to be a busy spot.

And after? If one person struggling with literacy signs up for one tutor, the whole thing will be worthwhile.

Thanks, Michèle!

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