February 21st, 2019

Community Foundation benefitting many in south

By Mabell, Dave on October 5, 2018.

Jane Brenner, executive director of the Taber and District Community Adult Learning Association, holds a picture of one of her students graduating from college, while speaking Thursday during the Community Foundation of Lethbridge and Southwestern Albertas Vital Signs report release event. Herald photo by Ian Martens @IMartensHerald

Dave Mabell

Lethbridge Herald


Junior high school dropouts have become college graduates – thanks to support from southern Albertans.

And women who couldn’t speak English are now reading to their pre-school children so they may have a better start in life.

Those are just some of the benefits coming from an adult learning program based in Taber, friends of the Community Foundation of Lethbridge and Southwestern Alberta learned Thursday. Jane Brenner, executive director of the Taber and District Community Adult Learning Association, said support from the Lethbridge philanthropic foundation has helped many area residents with little education to become literate, land good jobs – even open their own business and hire employees.

“It’s hard to find funding” for such a comprehensive program, Brenner said.

But with help from the foundation and others, the Taber program is helping Low German-speaking Mennonites who’ve moved north from Mexico to learn English and move ahead as members of their local communities. Places like Vauxhall and Grassy Lake have been rejuvenated as the immigrant families put down roots and raised their children.

Brenner said some of the women, feeling depressed living in relative isolation out on the farm, have become the program’s most active supporters.

“I never knew it was important to read to your children,” one told Brenner – after learning everyday English.

Les Vonkeman, a diversity officer with the Lethbridge Police Service, described another learning program – this one offering local officials and community workers some first-hand exposure to traditional Blackfoot culture. While living in a teepee – after learning how to set it up – the participants experienced a sweat lodge, took part in a pipe ceremony, visited a sacred Kainai site, and heard the songs and drums.

Some years ago, he said, “I surrounded myself with some amazing elders” to learn more about the Blackfoot way of life.

“I became a student,” and that’s an attitude others may take if they’re serious about working in the Truth and Reconciliation process.

The by-invitation camp event, he said, was backed by funds from the foundation – as were a number of other community-building programs.

Their stories were shared as the foundation released the sixth edition of its Vital Signs report, a regional snapshot of the region and its communities. It’s intended “to measure the vitality of our communities and identify significant trends in a range of areas critical to the quality of life.”

The foundation’s executive director, Charleen Davidson, said organizations and projects which receive its financial support are responding to one or more of six “vital signs.” They represent the region’s community connections, its environment, its living standards, its cultural life, its goal of healthy communities and its belief in lifelong learning.

“We share the report with our community to raise awareness, spark conversation and encourage action,” she said.

Among its findings, said research co-ordinator Rob Dowell, are reports showing a reduction in property crimes since the provincial government created an RCMP rural crime reduction in southern Alberta. In the Lethbridge region, the number of homicides and sexual assaults were lower in 2017 than the year before, while firearm-related offences increased.

Most-reported crimes were break-and-enter, fraud and driving while impaired.

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