HomeGet InvolvedAbout LaubachArnie StewartAwards

Arnie Stewart Award Past Winners

Blake Konkle: 2014 Arnie Stewart Award Winner
The Literacy Council of Niagara West

Blake has improved his skills in reading despite his dyslexia. He has been able to learn how to use a computer (even learning how to write and receive letters via email) and has trained himself to interact well with other people in business and learning environments. He has also completed requirements for certificates in WHMIS and St. John's Ambulance First Air courses.

Dyslexia has played a huge role in holding Blake back in terms of self-esteem, but it has also made him greatly determined to fulfill his goals despite his challenges.

Blake used to believe that his ability to learn and succeed would always be limited because of his difficulties with reading, but his dedicated hard work has paid off in confidence. Now that he has been able to experience gains from his efforts, he continues to learn and allow himself to be challenged by tasks he never imagined doing. When he does well, he is even more capable than before.

Blake is one of the first people to tell you that his initial reticence about literacy held him back, and he encourages new learners to commit themselves to working with their tutors to improve their skills.

He speaks well of his experiences at his council, he encourages others to persist in their own efforts to do well, and faces up to his own fears and prejudices about learning (for example, in learning how to use computers) in order to continue to grow. In this way he's showing very good leadership abilities in trying to encourage others not to be afraid, and not to give up. And he's come very far.

Blake is an example of all the possibilities that exist when someone is determined to use the resources at hand to overcome difficulties. He readily tells new learners about his experiences, and has volunteered to liaise with our Funders for interviews to talk to them about the support he's received in learning to read (and his need and desire to see that support continues). Blake has always been so determined that his enthusiasm has rubbed off on others. He is one of The Literacy Council of Niagara West's biggest supporters!

Name of Nominator: Arlene High, Executive Director, The Literacy Council Niagara West

Congratulations to the following nominees that received Honourable Mentions:

Jeremy Katz, Hamilton Literacy Council

Jeremy has gained many computer, leadership and communication skills as well as his basic literacy skills. Jeremy is now able to work indepently on the Learning Hub to continually upgrade his skills. He improved his employability by participating in the Workplace Essential Skills Training Program. He also completed a Peer tutoring workshop.

Jeremy struggled with his communication skills, but now relates clearly with students and staff members. He has severe arthritis affecting both his mobility and his ability to write, but now is proficient on the computer keyboard, and using a mouse.

Jeremy was the Chairperson for the Hamilton Student Council. He is now serving as a volunteer in the Digital Computer class, helping with I.T. problems, and helping the students as they are working on their files. He also helps other students as a Peer tutor, constantly providing support and encouragement.

Jeremy volunteers at many events at the Hamilton Literacy Council. They have two annual book sales where he helps to set up and clean up at the end. He also sells to the customers and helps promote their council to the public.  He is a classroom assistant in two Digital Technology classes. Jeremy continues to serve on the Student Council and participates in the setting up and cleaning up at the council's Annual General Meeting.

Ron Desmasdon, Gateway Centre for Learning

Ron has steadily improved his reading, writing and math skills. He can read and understand the newspaper now and he finds his reading comprehension much better.

Having improved skills has impacted his daily life as he is living with diabetes. He has to read his monitor, administer the correct amount of insulin four times daily and record the amounts accurately.

He has always had difficulty expressing himself verbally and in writing. He now has the ability to write sentences that he will let others read. More importantly, he has increased confidence in his ability to express himself clearly when speaking and he is much more comfortable interacting with others. This is allowing him to live a fuller, more fulfilling life.

Ron has many health related issues. He has always had difficulties hearing and wears hearing aids. He has eye problems and has to rest his eyes frequently. He also has diabetes and sever arthritis which affects his mobility. Somehow through all of this, he has a smile for everyone, remains positive, and strives to improve himself. He likes to do milestones to see how he is doing and he asks for suggestions and homework to do on his own time. Ron attends classes regularly on his day off work.

Ron is an exemplary learner. He sets goals for himself and always tries his best. If he doesn't succeed the first time he keeps trying until he does. He has been overheard telling the tutor to be hard on him and to point out all errors they see.

Ron recently volunteered to be interviewed and videotaped for the Gateway Centre for Learning website. He wanted to give back by taking part in this, even though it meant speaking in front of a camera. This was huge for Ron considering his years of feeling he could not express his ideas well. By taking a risk and discussing what the classes at Gateway have meant to him he may help others to take a risk and open the door to learning.

Velma Read: 2013 Winner of the Arnie Stewart Award

The latest winner of the Arnie Stewart Individual Achievement Award is Velma Read of the Hamilton Literacy Council.

Velma has worked very hard to reach Level 3 in reading and writing. She has opened her own business after leaving the Hamilton Literacy Council. She has been working for the Bingo fund raising money for HLC and she donates things to HLC/Student Council regularly. Her self-confidence has really improved and she can now speak to a group. Velma has done public speaking at MacMaster University. She has won the HLC Outstanding Student Award. She helps other students to achieve their potential.

Velma cannot see out of one eye and her mobility is very limited due to back problems.

She has become a mentor to other students at HLC and has been chair of the HLC Student Council.

She shows leadership when a project needs to be carried out and is a good problem solver.

She is a good supporter of the Hamilton Literacy Council and Velma never gives up on a project.

Velma is a spokesperson for the HLC to the public and to the students.  She raises money for the Council when needed and she has written to the Minister and to the newspaper for literacy and on behalf of the HLC.

The award recognizes the accomplishments of a learner who has overcome barriers, become a mentor to others, and has given back to his or her Council by raising awareness.

Denise Mandarino -- 2012 Winner of the Arnie Stewart Award

Denise's achievements are best described using excerpts of her own words from her own writings. Denise says, "When I first walked through the doors of The Literacy Group (TLG) I was convinced I was illiterate in every way, I had to count with my fingers with the smallest of numbers, I had no idea what a verb was, and finding the on button on a computer was lost to me. The world of education was always a place I never dreamed possible."

Denise has made great strides in her time with TLG. She's begun to use math while grocery shopping to add up prices, and even is able to build a budget on the computer. Denise says, "...I've come from being unable to count, write proper sentences or paragraphs amongst so many other tasks to actually preparing for college. My lifelong dream."

Denise has improved her reading, her writing, her math and computer skills. Denise says her time here, "...has led me to completely and finally rid myself of all my prescribed anti-depressants as well as my sleeping aids." Denise's biggest achievement has been to come to believe in herself, her capabilities, and in a brighter future where she has potential to attend college.

Denise's story is one that is all too familiar in many ways. Her childhood was not an easy one. Abuse and constant put-downs left her feeling that her life was worthless and that she was not smart enough so it is not surprising that she dropped out before even reaching high school. When life is hopeless and you don't believe you can learn, why bother with the struggle of school?

Denise's path led to living on the streets which exposed her to drugs and she was soon a full-fledged addict to the pills she would buy on the streets. After eating disorders and further health concerns it was not long after that when Denise, as a young teenager, was first prescribed anti-depressants to help her combat depression. Her struggles were later magnified by becoming a single mother, struggling to support her three children on her own. She began with Mother's Allowance and changed to ODSP. She felt caught in the cycle.

Denise wanted to do better with her life and through sheer determination Denise began to turn herself around. She ended her dependency on pills and began to work on her health concerns. Then, one day in the process, she came across The Literacy Group and walked through the doors. She has described the experience as "life-altering". She is the happiest she as ever been, she is off anti-depressants for the first time since she was a teenager, she has respect for herself  -  and she has hope. Her life will never be the same again.

After some initial issues with commitment to the program she soon realized that this wasn't working and realized that not only could she attend consistently, but now would. Through this she demonstrated to others that both commitment and change are in fact possible.

She is a model of doing more than the minimum. Currently Denise meets with a tutor once a week, but her commitment to learning is much more than that  -  she goes to TLG 3 or 4 more times a week to work independently on her skills and takes every opportunity to improve her learning. While health struggles have continued to be a challenge for Denise, if she cannot make it to TLG offices she is sure to complete pages of homework at home.

Beyond being a model in her own learning, Denise makes a point of supporting and mentoring other learners. Without any request or suggestion from staff, Denise began to make sure that everyone feels welcome at The Literacy Group by warmly greeting any new learners she meets and getting to know other current learners. She frequently spends time assisting other learners with their work. She is starting to present her reports to one of the classes so that they can learn and have an opportunity to take notes.

The thing about Denise is that she is always participating and always willing to share. She truly hopes her experiences and her story encourage others to participate in upgrading. She has spoken to acquaintances outside of The Literacy Group to inform them of their services and has encouraged others to seek support at the TLG doors. She has unreservedly offered to support them in any way she can and has shared compelling words to various campaigns that TLG has been developing. Recently she spoke at a Rotary Club when The Literacy Group received a donation. Her quotes have been used as part of a fund raiser at Christmas time.

Denise not only lends her stories to outreach and fundraising activities, but actively participates herself in fundraisers. This year she joined the "For the Love of Reading" Read-a-Thon and personally read 53 hours and raise $100!

  1. Keith Allen, North Bay Literacy Council (Runners-Up: Samuel Rodriguez, The Literacy Group of Waterloo Region - Kitchener; Jacobb Watkins, Grand Erie LEarning Alternatives and Basic Skills Program, Brantford; Annie Aultman, North Bay Literacy Council; Velma Read, Hamilton Literacy Council)
  2. Mike Miron, Barrie Literacy Council (Runners-up: Randy Tomlinson, The Literacy Group of Waterloo Region; Keith Allen, North Bay Literacy Council; Jurgen Saunders, The Literacy Group  of Waterloo Region; Vera Dobson, Essential Skills Upgrading, Waterloo Region District School Board)
  3. Mike Chamberlain, Literacy Council York-Simcoe (Runners-Up: Marg Fogarty, Grand Erie DSB, Brantford; Barbara Johnson, Open Door Centre, Waterloo)
  4. Jack Osborne, North Bay Literacy Council (Runner-Up: Kristina Ketelaar, Midland Area Reading Council)

  5. Rubert Payea, the Literacy Council of Niagara West (Runner-Up: Valentino Piccolo, Literacy Council York South)

  6. Andrea Menig, The Adult Literacy Council of Greater Fort Erie (Runner-Up: Rubert Payea, the Literacy Council of Niagara West)

  7. Nancy Swiston, Fort Frances (Runners-Up: Pauline Laramie, West Penetanguishene; Jack Osborne, North Bay)

  8. Joseph Carriere, Midland Area Reading Council

  9. Gary Porter, Barrie Literacy Council

Click here to learn about Arnie Stewart