“It was not until my late 20s that I became, what is known to me, as literate.”
Alana Bodnar is the executive assistant at Literacy Alberni. A dynamic woman with a quick smile and an eye for portrait photography, she is a mother, a wrestling supporter (her daughter was a provincial-level competitor and her husband coaches), a photographer and many other things. She has also struggled with literacy since she was a child.
Last year Bodnar decided to put her experiences with literacy to paper and entered her story in a provincial writing contest sponsored by Decoda Literacy Solutions, answering the question ‘how has literacy impacted your life’. She won second place with her essay.
“I entered the contest because I like writing and I wanted to share my story,” says Bodnar.
Bodnar struggled with reading comprehension, decoding, writing, copying. “It’s different now than it was then: I would be segregated into a learning classroom. I would be taken out of my English class and taken to sit in a room,” she says.
“Growing up I knew I was not an academic; my spelling was atrocious, my handwriting was messy, my copying skills lacked and when it came to tests, I flunked.”
Bodnar’s family knew when she was young that something was off when it came to early reading comprehension. “I knew right away because her brother could read like a hot damn,” said Bodnar’s mother, Deb Oakes. “She would make up words, jumping all over the story.”
Her family fought for a decade to have her tested for a learning disability, and she finally was. Bodnar is hesitant to label it “dyslexia”, as it would have been back then, because the word has such broad use nowadays.
It turns out that a case of encephalitis when she was five years old caused the learning disability.
“In elementary school I would take out novels on library day. The titles were beyond my comprehension, but I took them out, not to read them, but to bring them back. I needed to be good at something on library day…”
“The school system’s not set up for kids who can’t read,” says Oakes. “I don’t know what the solution is. Maybe the kid is good at PE; why take them out of PE?”
“After a series of life changing events, I found myself confined, isolated and bored. I asked a friend to bring me some Archie comics to read. I would look at the pictures and figure out the story. After about a month of this I began to read the words—and they were making sense. I could not get enough Archie comics. I could read.”
Literacy remains important to Bodnar. She started at Literacy Alberni as a board member along with her mother. When an employment opportunity came up she gave up her seat on the volunteer board and applied for the job. She was hired as a receptionist and that grew into welcoming community coordinator and most recently as a full-time executive assistant.
Bodnar says she is in the best position to guide new learners, as she has first-hand experience with learning challenges. “I’m not just someone who’s working there, I know what I’m talking about first hand. When learners come in and say ‘you don’t know. I feel dumb, I feel stupid,’ I say ‘yeah, I totally know what you’re talking about. I grew up with a learning disability.’ And then I can talk with them.
“At just over 40, I still have difficulty reading and comprehending everything I read, but I’m still working on it. Sometimes I wonder what my life would have been like if I could read like everybody else. Would I appreciate how fortunate I am to finally be able to read? Probably not.”
But this is her success story, she says. “Everyone is different and everyone has different goals.”
Next week: Another learner searches for solutions to his literacy challenges.