When Darlene Manthorpe saw the amount Oak Bay Kiwanis would donate to her literacy program she was certain it was a typo.
Even days later she was emotional talking about the $8,000 donation.
“Last year we only did seven days of events because at the end of the year we only had $99,” Manthorpe said. “We’re a little bit in the hole, so $8,000 means we will be able to run our full flight of events next year. We can probably go into next year knowing we can start up.
“Every other year we basically start out with no money, and we just start our events and hope the money will come in.”
Each year the president of the Oak Bay Kiwanis gets to choose where to make a donation in what current president Leslie Johnston affectionately calls the “president’s choice”. Johnston, who operates a hair design shop in James Bay, lives in View Royal and has grandkids who used the Books for Breakfast program. She strongly believes in kids having easy access to books and in parents reading to them.
“There aren’t a huge amount of criteria around it except that it has to go to the community and be for the good of the community,” said Johnston. “Literacy is a big deal in our family so that’s where I was looking to put this money into the community, where kids get to read and get read to.”
Manthorpe runs the Belmont Park Pre-School Society Books for Breakfast Program she started in 2007.
“I’m really picky about the books we choose. We read two books and they get one of those books to take home. We’ve modelled the reading of the book for the parents, then they take that book home,” Manthorpe said. “Often parents have books at home, but the kids wouldn’t necessarily read them. We choose books that a parent, if they do have to read it 300 times, it may be OK.”
Part of the official Westshore Community Literacy Plan, it’s a free family literacy program with monthly events from September through June, each coinciding with the school year. The program is open to any child six and under, in any community, and their parents or guardians. The program becomes a social event that includes breakfast, storytelling, songs, education and a book to take home.
“We want the kids and the parents to go away with that feeling that books are fun,” Manthorpe said. “They can connect the book with that social event… it doesn’t matter if their favourite thing is not the book, because they connect that to the reading of the book.”
Each event, two in a day back-to-back, is limited to 100 kids. Johnston’s two grandchildren have been among them.
“[Books for Breakfast] has kids that come all the way from Sooke and all the way from Sidney… so it’s really well received,” Johnston said. “I’ve worked in children’s programming before and it’s what’s going to build our future. Our children are our future. With a good understanding and a good grasp of the English language they’re on their way.”
Demand for the program increased each year and by the fifth year it outgrew its space in the school. Collaborating with the Military Family Resource Centre, they shifted events to the Colwood Pacific Activity Centre three years ago.
“Our operating budget is about $13,000 a year to run eight days, which is 16 events,” Manthorpe said, adding as a non-profit, but not a registered charity, many grants aren’t available. “If I can find a really good book at a great price I can buy ahead of time now. It’ll save us money and the $8,000 will go even further.”
Past president’s choices have enhanced playgrounds in Oak Bay and built bike racks for schools.
“This is what Kiwanis is all about,” Johnston said. “Language and books and things are just as durable as the playground. We’re far reaching, we do for elderly, we do for children.”