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Community organization trials literacy programming with staff

Stella’s Circle in St John’s, NL is used to providing a wide variety of programming for its clients. The non-profit provides housing, clinical and employment services to people who have barriers to participation in their communities, whether it be due to mental health issues, poverty or low literacy skills.

Recently, the organization signed up to ABC Life Literacy Canada’s Activate Learning, a literacy and essential skills program specifically for Newfoundland and Labrador. The program aims to improve the number of training opportunities for adult learners, employees and workplaces.

While Stella’s Circle initially signed up to deliver the UP Skills for Work employability skills portion of the program to its clients, they found that the module would also be relevant and beneficial to its own staff.

“Our staff session was really well received,” said Sarah Mills, Program Manager for Employment Services at Stella’s Circle. “We ran the adaptability workshop, which was very timely as COVID-19 had just hit and we had just adapted everything in our business,” she continues. “My staff was really grateful for the opportunity to dig deeper into this skill and to understand why they were feeling unsettled. It helped them to realize their feelings were normal and a part of adapting to change.”

UP Skills for Work is one of four sets of modules in the Activate Learning program, and focuses on nine key employability skills that hiring managers look for: Adaptability, Confidence, Stress Management, Time Management, Motivation, Attitude, Accountability, Presentation and Teamwork. These nine soft skills help workers to be adaptable and motivated throughout their whole employment and as they move into new roles and careers.

Mills says running the program internally also helped them to better deliver it to their clients as it allowed staff to understand that the information applies to them just as much as the participants. In total, the organization has run eight workshops covering Adaptability, Teamwork, Presentation and Stress Management. Due to the pandemic, some of the workshops were delivered via Facebook Live.

“I first heard about the program last fall after attending a presentation about it,” says Mills. “We run a lot of pre-employment programs so I’m always looking for new curriculum and new ways to deliver programs. This seemed like a great fit, so I immediately signed up to host a workshop.”

Mills explains that having turn-key curriculum that they can easily implement in their existing programs is very much appreciated, as the staff at Stella’s Circle consist of counsellors, facilitators and teachers, not curriculum builders. She says they have built some of their own curriculum but that it’s always helpful to have an expert provide vetted material that’s been successfully used across Canada in similar settings.

“The program really is plug and play. Our facilitators can facilitate any content, so to give them a workbook with activities to follow along with and to use where it makes sense. It means we can focus on facilitating and supporting the learning from it, instead of spending time researching curriculum,” Mills says. “I would recommend the program to any organization looking to use similar material. Don’t waste your time when it already exists; take the Activate Learning modules and apply them to your situation.”

Mills is keen to run the additional modules in the Activate Learning program, which include financial literacy, health literacy and essential skills.

“There really is a push from employers around essential skills as opposed to strict qualifications. Many of our clients don’t have specific experience or qualifications, but they have a lot of these employability skills. I appreciate the focus on essential skills as opposed to experience and education because it allows us to highlight our learners’ strengths, even if they feel they don’t have the traditional experience.”

To learn more about Activate Learning, visit