GVSD Librarian Recipient of MRA Literacy Award

joyce sawatzky 130x97It is with pleasure that we announce that Mrs. Joyce Sawatzky, the librarian at Winkler Elementary School, has been named as the recipient of the Manitoba Reading Association's Crocus Award for Literacy Advocacy.

The award is presented annually by the Manitoba Reading Association to an individual or organization who advocates for literacy within their region. Mrs. Sawatzky was nominated by the Pembina Escarpment Reading Council, and executive members of the Pembina Escarpment Reading Council participated in the presentation of the award. The Manitoba Reading Association partners with the Reading Council of Greater Winnipeg for an annual awards celebration. This year's Awards presentation was held in Winnipeg at the Viscount Gort Hotel on Wednesday, May 31st, 2017.

Reflecting on receiving this honour at the Awards Celebration, Mrs. Sawatzky said she "felt inspired after hearing all of the amazing things that each of the people receiving awards were doing to promote literacy in each of their respective communities."  "I was humbled to be included in the awards ceremony," said Sawatzky, "and am very grateful to Pembina Escarpment Reading Council (PERC) for the nomination, and for their present and past support of the Winkler Imagination Library."

Central to the work that produced this award lies her committment to literacy and the powerful work being done by the Imagination Library. The Imagination Library was started in 1995 by American musician Dolly Parton and her Dollywood Foundation. Centered in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, the Dollywood Foundation distributes a million free books to children each month, up until the age of five.

As a librarian, Mrs. Sawatzky has always had a big heart for promoting literacy among children, particularly in the preschool and Early Years. A professional learning workshop on the Imagination Library some years earlier had already planted the seed of what could be possible in our community. Her work took a more serious turn three winters ago when she decided to launch an email to the Dollywood Foundation. The risk paid off, and her note led to an initial meeting with a Dollywood representative and 35 interested local volunteers.

Today, with the help of numerous local organizational partners and sponsors, there are 750 students enrolled in the Imagination Libary program in the Winkler and Plum Coulee area. Each book comes in the mail addressed to each individual child. The books, comprised of many children's classics, are chosen by a team of educators at Dollywood. The books are free, but the postage is paid by the committee. In terms of growing the readership, Sawatzky notes that liaison workers continue to be instrumental in reaching out to families, along with help from Regional Connections and Central Station.

When asked what this literacy award means to her, she replied that "it's humbling and very nice to be recognized." She is quick, however, to acknowledge and give credit to the local regional Imagination Library committee whose tireless support has helped make the initiative the success that it is. "When you have a great committee," says Sawatzky, "it makes a huge difference."

Mrs. Sawatzky continues to be a passionate advocate for family literacy and providing reading opportunities for children. The Imagination Library's program is available to any community that will partner with it and implement it through a local organization or charity. She hopes that ultimately her award will help shed light on the fact that any community in Canada can sign up and partner with the Imagination Library. Sawatzky notes that one thing always remains true: "kids still love books."

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