A man and a woman sitting at a table with books open

Work ready in the Huon Valley

24 August 2018

“Because it gives me a chance to see courage”.

So said the U.S. Presidential candidate, Jack Stanton (played by John Travolta), in the movie Primary Colours.

Stanton was visiting an adult literacy class in a tough working-class city, with a group of people whose lives were being held back by their struggles with reading and writing.

The question he’d been asked was “Governor Stanton – why do you spend so much time and effort on adult literacy?” In response, Stanton paid tribute to the personal courage it takes to admit needing help, and to reach out and get that help.

That courage isn’t just the stuff of fictional American movies. You can find it every day in big and small communities around the world, including in Tasmania. You can often find it at the Geeveston Community Centre in the Huon Valley.

Being an adult who struggles to read and write proficiently can be overwhelming. It limits job prospects, causing unemployment and potential poverty. It makes ordinary tasks like connecting electronic devices much harder and riskier, because instruction manuals are rendered virtually useless. It isolates people from the world around them, because text messages and news articles can be difficult to interpret. Having low literacy or numeracy levels can carry a sense of shame and embarrassment that no-one should have to endure.

The people who staff and attend the Geeveston Community Centre have shown the courage and commitment to confront those problems head-on. Using funding of about $4,200 from Hydro Tasmania’s Community Grant Program, the centre engaged Adult Literacy and Numeracy Coordinator, Lucy Whitehead, and careers counsellor, Lauren McGrow, to run its “Work Ready in the Huon Valley” program.

Four people sitting around a table studying using flash cardsAt Geeveston, Lucy and Lauren have worked one-on-one with disadvantaged young people, aged between 18 and 25, to help complete resumes and cover letters, improve interview skills, fill out forms, address selection criteria, and enroll in study courses. It’s been a life-changing lifeline for 17 Huon locals who, for various reasons, have needed reading and writing support to help fulfill their potential.

That includes a young man with dyslexia whose studies towards a Diploma of Community Service had run into trouble, but is now firmly back on track because of industry-specific support he received from the Geeveston program. In turn, he’ll soon be able to serve and support his community at an expert professional level.

The program has also supported Penny*, who came to the centre to apply for a job at the local school, where she already volunteered. Penny was struggling to understand and address the selection criteria for the role, and didn’t fully recognize the value of her community volunteering and fundraising in proving her skills for the position.

Lauren coached Penny through each selection question, building her skills and confidence. Penny got the job, and started work as a casual teacher’s assistant this year.

Mark* has also found work with help from the program. He initially came to sit his learner drivers test, having been disqualified from driving more than a decade ago, and needed help writing letters as part of regaining his licence.

Two months later, Mark successfully applied for a job after receiving support and coaching from Lucy to help him address the selection criteria, convey his personal qualities and experience. He’s now working, learning, and more financially secure. Mark’s feedback to the program was “Without your help, I wouldn’t have applied for the job”.

“A lot of people seek support with one small need and go on to find there are plenty of other steps they can take to improve their skills and employment opportunities.”

Of course, stories like Penny’s and Mark’s are bright spots in a huge ongoing challenge. Shortcomings in adult literacy and numeracy are often symptoms of financial disadvantage and inequality of both education and opportunity. While the causes of that disadvantage and inequality are largely high-level, it’s often left to grassroots community groups to provide the most accessible and practical support and solutions.

Through Work Ready in the Huon Valley, and with Hydro Tasmania’s backing, the Geeveston Community Centre is one group showing the commitment and courage to empower its people, and support better futures.

Hydro Tasmania’s annual Community Grant Program provides at least six grants of up to $5,000 for non-profit organisations making a real difference in Tasmanian communities. They’re aimed at projects that make Tasmanian communities safer, more connected and more empowered.

Applications for the program open in February each year, and grants are awarded by mid-year. There’s more information at www.hydro.com.au/community 

* Real names changed to protect privacy.


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