Capilano University and the Carnegie Community Centre

The Learning Centre celebrated its 33rd anniversary earlier this month with its educational partner of 20 years, Capilano University.

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Les Nelson, the Carnegie Community Centre's first Elder in Residence, drummed at the 33rd anniversary celebration of the Carnegie Learning Centre.

By supporting learners with distinctive needs, Capilano University has helped residents of the Downtown Eastside survive, if not thrive, through the Carnegie Learning Centre.

The Learning Centre celebrated its 33rd anniversary last month with its educational partner of 20 years, Capilano University. The Learning Centre is located at Carnegie Community Centre, a facility widely recognized for its leadership in providing social, educational, cultural and recreational programming to community members.

One of the speakers at the celebration was Les Nelson, the Carnegie Community Centre's first Elder in Residence. Nelson completed his high school credits with the encouragement and support of the Learning Centre. He went on to represent other upgrading and literacy students at literacy conferences, to volunteer with Learning Centre and Aboriginal programs at the Carnegie Centre and become a community leader.

"He's come into his potential and we had a small role in supporting him along his journey," says Lucy Alderson, instructor and project coordinator of Capilano University's Community Development and Outreach department (CDO).

In partnership with the Carnegie Community Centre, Capilano University's CDO department runs the Learning Centre with 55 volunteers a year. Instructors and volunteers help English language learners and those looking to upgrade literacy, numeracy and computer skills. They also provide assistance with urgent day-to-day tasks by treating them as learning opportunities. Alderson notes an individual must navigate 24 web pages before they can apply for income assistance, which can be particularly challenging to complete with limited English skills and only time-limited access to a public computer.

"Forty per cent of people in Canada have difficulty with basic literacy and numeracy and IT skills," says Alderson. "It's very easy for people to be left out."

CDO also helps students to develop leadership skills and be counted. Learners chair meetings and record minutes, and volunteers prepare those who visit the Learning Centre to participate in the Canadian census and elections. The Learning Centre helps those participating in the Downtown Eastside Heart of the City (arts) Festival find their voice and assists area artists to access grants and promote their work.

The Carnegie Centre and Capilano University undertook a project in 2014 that resulted in a book called Invisible Heroes: Aboriginal Stories from Vancouver's Downtown Eastside, which highlights the resilience and contributions of Aboriginal community members and illuminates how historical Canadian policies have impacted Aboriginal Peoples' lives.

"We have all of these adults coming back who had terrible school experiences in the past, and we wanted their stories to be on our shelves," says Alderson of the book.

Together with community partners, Capilano University has made major contributions to learning in the Downtown Eastside while bringing expertise about community engagement in the inner city back to the University.

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