L is for Literacy

Cranbrook celebrates Family Literacy Day with recognition for a community literacy champion and students who excel in creative writing

Pictured above: Karen Johnston (centre)

Pictured above: Karen Johnston (centre)

Literacy was the true winner on Monday night when community members, students and families gathered to celebrate Family Literacy Day in Cranbrook.

Organized by the Columbia Basin Alliance for Literacy (CBAL), the Family Literacy event was held on Monday, Jan. 27 at the Manual Training Centre in Cranbrook.

The evening combined fun events to encourage literacy with recognition for students who entered the Creative Writing Contest, and the awarding of the inaugural Community Literacy Champion.

To her surprise, Daily Townsman publisher Karen Johnston was named 2013’s Community Literacy Champion.

Johnston said she was honoured to receive the award.

“Especially in front of all of the children who did their creative writing projects. It was pretty special because each of those kids got up to receive their certificates. You could see them beaming with pride. They were a very gracious audience when other people win – they were just as excited as I was. I raised it like the Stanley Cup and got cheers from one of the boys.”

CBAL community literacy coordinator Katherine Hough said Johnston was nominated for her work promoting literacy in Cranbrook.

“It was hard. We had some really good nominations, but Karen just stood out,” said Hough, who added that the Community Literacy Advisory Committee was responsible for sorting through the nominations.

Johnston was nominated by Riley Wilcox at the Cranbrook and District Community Foundation.

“Karen is very supportive of the community,” Wilcox wrote in her nomination. “Her energy and enthusiasm are amazing. As publisher of the Daily Townsman, Karen championed the Reach A Reader campaign in our community. This is no surprise as Karen gives selflessly of her time and talent. The region could use more champions like her.”

The Reach A Reader campaign is a collaboration between CBAL and Black Press in the Kootenays to raise awareness for literacy. In two of its four years, the campaign has raised the most money in Cranbrook.

“It’s not just the newspaper spearheading it — it’s also the great people in this community who jump on board and takes that where it needs to be,” said Johnston.

Johnston said that she is inspired to promote literacy because of her own experience learning to read.

“As a child, I struggled as a reader. Truly, it was some of the teachers and organizations that I went through as a child that turned me into love reading,” said Johnston. “It was easy to say I don’t want to read, it’s too difficult, I’m not enjoying it. I was far more interested in being out playing as a child. But it was all of those organizations that really made me realize there was a whole new world out there once you had the ability and the confidence to read. I just want to pay that forward.”

Johnston began her career as proofrunner at the St. Albert Gazette in 1988. During her 15 years at that publication, Johnston progressed to advertising sales manager then marketing manager. She moved to the Red Deer Express as marketing director from 2003 until 2007, when she relocated with her family to Cranbrook to become sales manager at the Daily Townsman. She was promoted to publisher of the Townsman in 2010.

The Townsman and CBAL partnered to launch the Creative Writing Contest this year, in collaboration with School District 5 and the Cranbrook Public Library.

At Monday’s event, students who were nominated by their schools for the entries received certificates and prizes for their work.

Students from Pinewood, TM Roberts, Gordon Terrace, Parkland and Mount Baker all submitted pieces for the contest with a total of 23 submissions.

“It was absolutely wonderful. I was really impressed,” said Hough.

The standout was a 12-chapter book written by Jack Strom, a Grade 5 student at Gordon Terrace.

“That’s the kid who blew everybody away,” said Hough.

Two principals also attended the event to support their students: Karen Giles from Pinewood and Michelle Sartorel from Gordon Terrace.

“What was really neat was to see the parents who were so supportive of the munchkins who came,” added Hough.

The nominations in the Creative Writing Contest will be published in the Daily Townsman over the coming months.