SHAPING THE PLAINS – Interview with Jen Dare

There’s something so striking about a story of triumph. Whether it be overcoming great odds, or making a comeback from being an underdog; we all root for those who have overcome adversity. Jen is a shining example of someone who has come out the other side of life’s trials and tribulations with a well-earned smile.

“I’ve been doing the 26TEN program for about two years now and I hope to be finished up by the end of this year. My plan is to go to TAFE for better career options.”

“And what changed your mind? What happened that made you decide to receive this education?”

“My son was diagnosed with dyslexia … and I didn’t want him to get like how I am now.”

Jen was one of the tens of thousands of adults in Tasmania with low-to-no literacy skills. Our state has the lowest literacy skills in the nation, with 49% of adults unable to read, write, or verbally pronounce words correctly. Growing up in a small country town, Jen spoke with me of never having the help she needed throughout school, and completed college without ever learning how to read or write. For most of her life, her partner and a few close friends have been helping her fill out forms and read important information. She agreed she was incredibly lucky to have people like that in her life and mentioned technology has also been a life saver.

“They all learnt to deal with my language and my lingo and how I say things. Phones have helped a lot. If it was all pen and paper, no way. Technology has really helped. My phone lets me read a lot easier.”

During the week, Jen works at the Clarendon Vale Child and Family Centre. It was here that she saw pamphlets and began the 26TEN program. She has also been the catalyst for a number of projects and services in the community, including getting St. Giles Disability Support Services to begin to operate in Clarence Plains, raising money to have wheelchair ramps installed at Clarendon Vale Primary School, and pushing for two wheelchair-friendly swings to be installed around Clarendon Vale. As well as her dyslexic son, Jen has a daughter who is wheelchair-bound; all of these efforts were for her.

Coming from all this adversity and fighting for the best life for herself and her children is wonderful in itself… but Jen wants to do even more.
“I want to do community work and I want to teach others 26TEN.”

“Awesome! I suppose coming from a background of having low-literacy yourself, other people will feel less intimidated by the program? They’ll be able to relate to you.”

“Exactly. I can say ‘this is where I was, barely able to do this and that and the other, and now I’m here teaching you’. That’s the goal. And I know so many people here and in Rokeby too, I’m hoping to get them involved.”

Shaping the Plains Project supported by the Clarence City Council Recovery Grant