A Drumheller resident, who for 15 years has been a leader in spreading literacy, is a finalist for a national award.
Holt-Begg is a finalist for the Canada Post Community Literacy Award as an educator. She, along with 15 others from across Canada will be judged by Canadian literacy advocates. If she wins, it means recognition on a national scale as well as a cash prize. Her reward has come from helping people.
“You get to see people make changes in their lives,” said Holt-Begg. “I have seen things like someone who has been doing a menial job, and a couple years later they are in a managerial position in that same place. This is because they changed their education or learned enough English to use the skills they came to Canada with.”
She explained it is not uncommon to have clients who are well-educated professionals from abroad, but the only barrier for them to excel in their field is the language. Because of this, they are not living up to their potential and are working in low paying jobs.
Another common situation she sees is when an adult comes to the program, and a learning disability is identified. While she doesn’t diagnose the disability, she finds way to have the adult learn despite their difficulties. This can be dramatic.
“You run into them a few years later and their confidence level has made huge gains,” she said. “One fellow came in with his head down, sort of embarrassed to be there. Six months later, he walked into the office and there was a complete change to his posture, he came back in, looking like an athlete, and told me what he believed he needed to learn next. He had taken charge in that six months once he realized he was a bright guy and could learn.”
Holt-Begg, like many, did not start out on the track towards a professional career. After high school, she found work, but eventually joined the Royal Canadian Navy, where she trained as a communication officer. After the military, she began a career in the newspaper industry, starting as a typesetter, and then becoming a graphic artist.
In the 1980s, she enrolled as a mature student at the University of Lethbridge in the Faculty of Education. She graduated in 1988 with a major in Art and a minor in Social Studies. She worked in the public school system until 1996 when she found her calling to become a teacher of adult education.
Holt-Begg's immersed herself in the practice and theory of the vocation as she took every course and workshop available to develop herself and better serve users of the program. She continued to discover innovative ways to facilitate the program.
“Always working with the students’ strengths, Fay preferred to use authentic learning materials: newspapers, joke books, cook books, safety manuals, labels and flyers. The students learned to read and write simultaneously, and, with the help of tutors, they went on reading field trips, used computers, wrote letters, learned to shop and use the post office, read leases and pay bills, gaining autonomy and confidence every step of the way,” said her nomination letter.
While Holt-Begg was instrumental to the program, she said the key to its success is the hundreds of volunteers who spend time working for the program. At any given time there are 15-20 volunteers helping with the program. While some only serve for a few months, others have stayed on for years.
According to a press release, the Canada Post Community Literary Awards were “established in 1993 to discover and acknowledge the achievements of Canadians who have made a special effort or an important contribution to literacy.” There is a category for individual achievement, as well as one for educators.
The winners will be announced September 8.