Since our establishment Bookmates has evolved from a project funded initiative to a full-fledged non-profit charitable organization. In 2019, we celebrated thirty five years of supporting parents and young children with the development of literacy and learning skills.
In 1983, Bookmates/Reading Partners was created through the inspiration and vision of Dr. Beverley Zakaluk, professor in the Faculty of Education at the University of Manitoba.
Funded by Winnipeg’s Core Area initiative, the project matched volunteers – mainly university students – with children living in the inner city for trips to the library to encourage and support the love of reading and help familiarize families with available community resources.
In 1984, Bookmates/Reading Partners was incorporated as a registered charitable organization
Early programs included Building Language at Story Time (BLAST) in 1984 and Book Bridges in 1990. Supported by the Junior League of Winnipeg, Book Bridges was developed in partnership with the Immigrant Women’s Employment Service and the Women’s Counseling Service.
These programs signaled a shift from children-only programming to an interactive, intergenerational design, increasing parents’ awareness of the importance of reading to and with their children.
Growth and Expansion
Bookmates/Reading Partners’ second decade focused on strengthening and modifying existing programs to meet changing community needs. In partnership with Lord Selkirk School Division, a Family Reading Club was created to provide teacher workshops as well as family programming, with a focus on engaging young readers. A “train the facilitator” model was adopted, where Bookmates staff guides community workers and parents toward the skills and knowledge needed to build family literacy capacity in their communities. This model continues to be a Bookmates’ cornerstone.
In 2000, the provincial government implemented the Healthy Child Manitoba (HCM) Strategy, a network of programs and supports for children, youth and families. Bookmates is a key contributor to the early years portion of the strategy, offering family literacy training across the province in partnership with regional Parent Child Coalitions.
Also that year, Bookmates/Reading Partners officially changed our name to Bookmates and continued our increasing focus on parent-child programming.
One of our programs, Alphabet Soup, was the 2006 recipient of the Dietitians of Canada Regional Award. Developed with the community in partnership with Winnipeg Regional Health Authority, it also received a Sharing the Flame Certificate of Recognition as a recognized program in health and learning for 2009 from the Canadian Council on Learning.
Thanks to talented local writers and illustrators, Bookmates self-published five books between 2006 and 2008. A First Counting Book in Swampy Cree and English; Watch Your Step: A Black and White Book for Babies in English, Ojibwe and Cree; and Kinipan na, in three languages plus phonetics, encourage dual and home-language development. Kookum and Me and Pepere Played the Fiddle are important additions to a culturally appropriate library for preschoolers.
In July 2009, Bookmates transitioned to a new fully functional, independent space on Erin Street. Previously, the City of Winnipeg generously had provided low cost space, mainly in Winnipeg Public Libraries.
Bookmates’ recent endeavours include continued early literacy program development and new community partnerships to address learning in the early years. Families Together, our newcomer family literacy program, was developed in 2010-2012. With funding from Citizenship and Immigration Canada, Bookmates piloted the program nation-wide, partnering with literacy and newcomer organizations from Burnaby, BC to St John’s, Newfoundland.
In 2012, the Very READ-y project was launched. This multi-year collaborative family literacy initiative supported the early learning community and families in Winnipeg’s Point Douglas neighbourhood. With the generous support of The Winnipeg Foundation, Very READ-y worked to increase school readiness by offering young children and their families focused speech, language and literacy programs and activities. It impacted hundreds of families over its six year span.
In 2013, Bookmates’ newest family literacy program, Growing Up Green, was introduced following two years of community consultation and research. Focusing on connecting families with nature and the environment, it encourages active, outdoor learning.
In 2014, we were honoured to be a finalist for the Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce Spirit of Winnipeg Awards in the Charity category. These annual awards recognize innovative organizations and businesses for their contributions in making Winnipeg a better place to live.
We were pleased to receive the 2018 Manitoba Child Care Association’s Friends of Child Care Award.
In recent years we have developed a series of skills development workshops for service providers who work with families and young children to help them integrate early literacy and learning activities and resources in their programs. These workshops are based on current themes related to family literacy and early childhood development.
Into The Future
We continue to develop community partnerships with schools, family resource centres, libraries and childcare centres in order to build our capacity to reach more families and support the development of foundational learning skills. In response to diverse community needs, we engage with our partners in ongoing review and renewal of our family literacy programs and training.
We look forward to continuing to support parents as their children’s first teachers, developing new workshops and programs, and promoting the importance of early literacy to fulfill our vision that “all families and their communities experience the joy and benefits of literacy”.