The Local Bus That Delivers Empowerment - United Way Alberta Capital Region

The Local Bus That Delivers Empowerment

September 8, 2021


Alberta’s Secret
Bob* has a secret. He works in an office. He goes to his kids’ hockey games after work. He is a respected member of his local community league. Bob also silently struggles with literacy.

This story might sound far-fetched, but people with similar challenges can be found throughout our province. In fact, according to Kim Chung the Co-Executive Director of the Centre for Family Literacy, 45 per cent of adults in Alberta lack the basic literacy and essential skills to function effectively in our society.

“Literacy is not only reading and writing. It’s also being able to understand it. And it is being able to apply literacy skills to all facets of life to help you become an active member of your community,” says Kristin Dmytriw, Programs & Training Manager for Centre for Family Literacy.

Literacy empowers people to access employment, effectively manage their family’s health, and connect with their community. And it ultimately helps people escape poverty.

Person looking for a job.
A Safe Place for Learning
Unfortunately, Canada has more people at the lower end of the literacy scale than other similarly ranked countries(1). People struggling with literacy, like Bob, often want to remove the obstacles they face for their kids. But how? Many don’t access resources because of the fear of being stigmatized or because they can’t afford to travel to where resources are.

Enter the Classroom on Wheels (C.O.W.) Bus. Funded by United Way, it is a Centre for Family Literacy program open to parents and caregivers with children ages 0-6 years. The C.O.W. Bus provides a safe entry point for parents and their young children to learn and grow together. It delivers a 3,000-book library as well as interactive programming including sharing books, singing, rhyming and playing at partner sites across Edmonton.

The C.O.W. Bus

The Classroom on Wheels (C.O.W.) Bus is funded by United Way.

The Classroom on Wheels (C.O.W.) Bus is funded by United Way.

Impact During the Pandemic
During the pandemic, program staff discovered that many new people in our community became isolated and vulnerable. In response, staff adapted programming including the C.O.W. Bus and Rhymes that Bind to provide supports safely online.

This new delivery had some surprising benefits for families.

“Jeanine (the facilitator) invited all the participants to unmute their screens and countdown to the end of the program. At this point, (I) burst into tears! We were unprepared for how simple weekly programs would act as the gathering vehicle for us as a family. We have been brought together by our mutual anticipation and participation in singing together and having fun,” shared a program participant.

These new online courses also enabled working parents and relatives from across the globe to be able to participate in family literacy sessions for the first time.

“We are never getting rid of online programs. Now we are seeing the whole family together participating. It has been so wonderful to see often-isolated grandparents from other parts of the world be able to connect with their grandchildren. They sing the songs they learned in the program together,” notes Kim Chung, Co-Executive Director of the Centre for Family Literacy.

A family participates in online family literacy programming.

A family participates in online family literacy programming.

Community Impact
Improving literacy not only helps families, it also helps communities. Studies show that when we look out for each other, we all benefit. A one per cent increase in average literacy scores leads to a three per cent increase, per person, in a country’s economy(2).

Thanks to programs like the C.O.W. Bus, local parents and their children get the tools to thrive. And our entire community gets strengthened because of it.


*Bob’s story represents real people whose experiences were shared in the development of this blog post.