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Guelph man looks to inspire others on literacy journey

Carl Nigro has dyslexia and struggled to read and write growing up - but his message for others is to take the leap and overcome your struggles
Carl Nigro is looking to inspire others by speaking out about his literacy journey, and overcoming his struggles with dyslexia.

It's 6 a.m., and Carl Nigro's up and about, reading a tale from his latest novel.

It wasn't always like this for the 60-year-old, who overcame his obstacles with dyslexia to reach this point in his literacy journey.

"Most of the time, I felt as if I was sitting on the edge," he said.

Growing up, Nigro admits he felt ashamed, nervous, shy and unworthy. He couldn't fathom picking up a book.

He was placed in special education in high school because he was labelled a slow learner. Nigro rushed through assignments out of fear of being the last one out the door because he didn't want to be known as "slow or stupid."

Nigro didn't graduate high school, skipped classes, and turned to drugs and alcohol.

His father, a cash crop farmer, didn't mind him cutting school. Nigro said it was thought he would just work on the farm, and didn't need school. His mother, on the other hand, wanted him in school.

"I have always been a hard worker, and as I got older, having a family put everything into perspective," Nigro said. "I forgot the days of getting into trouble with drugs and alcohol because I needed to focus on the future, which meant building my home and my life with my wife, our sons and our daughter."

Turning to his adult life, Nigro said he worked small jobs, and ended up at a Guelph open mine pit for nine years, before it shut down.

He landed a job at Dufferin Aggregates in Aberfoyle, and climbed the corporate ladder.

"I became a lead hand, and then I had to do regular notes," Nigro said. "I struggled with notes, so my wife suggested (going to Action Read, a community literacy centre in Guelph)."

He first sought the help in the late 1990's, and has steadily increased his literacy.

When he became supervisor, Nigro said that's when he really needed to have his reading, writing and computer skills improve.

"Now, I can read well," he said. "Not perfect, but it's a lot better than where I was before, where I wouldn't even read a book."

Now, Nigro said he can read 400-page novels with very little difficulty.

"I wouldn't say it was easy," he admits. "It was a struggle for me, but overall it was comfortable. I made myself comfortable."

It's also gotten Nigro more comfortable as a public speaker.

But he admits communication skills are something he wants to continue working on.

"I struggled with that all my life," he said. "(I felt) excited, anxious but overall my whole life, it's been a great journey.

"I retired at the age of 60 and I'm enjoying life."

It's giving him time to read, take trips and Nigro has also been asked by Action Read to host a few talks with classes to discuss his journey, and lend some tips to others wanting to improve their literacy.

As for him, Nigro reads every morning and evening, and has gotten through 17 books.

From James Patterson novels, to more recently the book Indian Horse by Richard Wagamese, he's found himself enjoying the pastime.

And Nigro's looking ahead to reading even larger books.

"It's all about exercising your mind, keeping it active," he said, adding it's something he's more attuned with as he's gotten older.

"If you don't use it, you lose it."

So with the knowledge Nigro carries now, what would he tell his younger self?

"Even though you struggle with reading, writing and communicating with other people, it's a tough journey to start," he said.

"But it's something that you shouldn't be shy of. Get involved in it, make it happen."

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Mark Pare

About the Author: Mark Pare

Originally from Timmins, ON, Mark is a longtime journalist and broadcaster, who has worked in several Ontario markets.
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