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Literacy non-profit finds new home after Arthur fire

But even though they've secured a new temporary physical space at 148 George Street, down the street from their old location, staff say they're still dealing with a lot of 'unseen damage'
The Wellington County Learning Centre was one of several businesses affected by a structure fire at the IScreamm Cone Company store on George Street in Arthur last month.

ARTHUR ‒  A longstanding literacy non-profit is determined to rise from the ashes after a fire "burned down" their former unit last month. 

With total damages estimated at over $500,000, the Wellington County Learning Centre (WCLC) suffered "significant smoke and water damage" after the ceiling collapsed during an apartment fire in downtown Arthur last month, rendering all electronics "unsavable" and leaving behind "a bad smell" and a "layer of soot on every surface." 

"Definitely the timing was not good for this, not that there's ever a good time for a fire," said interim executive director Geoff Smith, who was in two meetings about funding when he received the call that their former unit was "burning down." 

"We were just lucky no one was in our building at the time of the fire." 

But even though they've secured a new temporary physical space at 148 George Street, down the street from their old location, Smith said they're still dealing with a lot of "unseen damage." 

"I think the frustrating part for most people during the transition is we have stuff, it's literally right there, but it's not accessible," said Smith. "Staff have been good in that they've brought in some temporary (supplies) to make workspaces so that people feel welcomed and are still able to work when they come in but that's probably been the hardest part, just getting back some of the infrastructure that makes up the office and helps us do what we do." 

A non-profit charitable organization for over 25 years, the WCLC provides county residents with learning services and programs to emphasize the importance of literacy in maintaining a high quality of life. 

However, Smith said the cost of living crisis has "added layers to everything" and he's noticed more clients are "feeling a little bit of desperation" and walking in not necessarily for help with literacy but because they don't know where else to turn. 

"Personally, I feel like there's not enough services in Arthur for us to leave," said Smith. "For us, finding a temporary home that maybe isn't 100 per cent of a fit was more important than finding a 100 per cent fit outside the community."

According to the WCLC, 22 per cent of adults living in Waterloo-Wellington currently fall into the lowest levels of literacy and are six times more likely to live in a low-income household, not to mention more likely to experience unemployment, suffer poor health, or seek social assistance.

"What we're finding is with the complexity of some of the hoops that people have to go through to access services, they're not reaching the help they need," said Smith. "A lot of our clients have basically reached the point where they're accessing our services not just for literacy but for help in any way."

While the WCLC's new location is currently open to the public, the group is welcoming temporary furniture donations and volunteer support as they wait for insurance coverage. 

Isabel Buckmaster is the Local Journalism Initiative reporter for GuelphToday. LJI is a federally-funded program

About the Author: Isabel Buckmaster, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Isabel Buckmaster covers Wellington County under the Local Journalism Initiative, which is funded by the Government of Canada
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