2021: A year of growth and transformation

2021: A year of growth and transformation


Thanks to our growing community of families, students, partners and supporters, the year 2021 was filled with new and growing programs, further achievements from our students, and a lot of wonderful learning! We want to thank every person and organization who has joined us on our mission to transform lives of children and youth across British Columbia and provide them with expert, accessible and comprehensive learning supports 

In 2021, LDS continued to grow in order to fulfill our mission to serve all children and youth with learning differences. We saw a 30% increase in students supported by our programs, bringing the total to over 400 lives impacted throughout the year. To facilitate4 this growth, we welcomed many new instructors with diverse teaching expertise, new core team members to ensure our programs are run well and kept accessible, and new board members to help build our community and our depth of knowledge in many areas. 

2021 was also a year of finding innovative program offerings for an increasingly diverse student population. In June, LDS launched RISE TEAM, a life skills and employment transition program addressing the need to support teenagers graduating into the workforce or into higher education and offering meaningful volunteer opportunities to put their new skills into action. During the summer, we offered Intensive Intervention, a rigorous program designed to help students maintain and improve their foundational skills in preparation for the new school year. In the autumn, we brought to life LDS Access, an electric mobile classroom, bringing our RISE method of learning support right to students’ communities across the lower mainland. And in October, LDS launched Early RISErs, an early years education and intervention program to support growth in all aspects of a young child’s development, and guide parents in supporting their young child’s unique needs. We are taking our learnings from the first cohorts of these programs and applying them to further enhanced offerings throughout 2022! 

Collaboration, community, and new partnerships were also a theme of 2021. Many of our programs are only possible through the generous support we receive from individual and corporate donors and through grants. We were able to build partnerships with the University of Waterloo SIRRL on an exciting project investigating the impact of social robots on children’s learning and educational goals, and expand our partnership with the University of British Columbia to facilitate access to Psychoeducational Assessments for our families.  

Our workshops, outreach, and programming were made possible with community collaborations and support from Vancouver Public Library (VPL), Vancouver Society of Childcare Centres (VSOCC), Play Roly, and SmallTalk, among others. In 2021, our programs and impact received significant media coverage from outlets including CBC, Global, CTV, CKNW and Black Press.  

Every day we come to work at LDS because we are inspired by every aspect of our work. Through working with our students and families we have the honour and opportunity to make ongoing meaningful changes in the lives of children and youth with learning differences. This work provides us daily with opportunities to learn, grow, and collaboratively overcome challenges. We are so grateful and proud of how we have grown together. Thank you for your role in this success, and we look forward to sharing more successes with you as our journey continues! 

RISE TEAM: LDS’ Pre-employment program success!

RISE TEAM: LDS’ Pre-employment program success!

The LDS mission is to empower all children and youth with learning differences to recognize their unique strengths and develop the tools to achieve lifelong confidence and success. One way we do this is by helping teens with learning differences increase their graduation rates, skills, and work opportunities through our RISE TEAM program. 

We all know how challenging it can be to get that first job. RISE TEAM combines our Research-informed Individualized Student Education (RISE) with additional Training for Educational Advancement Mentorship (TEAM). It is a pre-employment support program for students with learning differences that assists teens with all aspects of transitioning to the workforce, from meeting high school graduation requirements to acquiring volunteer experience as Educational Advancement Mentors to younger children with learning differences.   

Instructors work with teens on their hard skills, such as improving their written expression to successfully craft resumes and cover letters. RISE TEAM participants learn how to navigate various interfaces and portals to find and apply for jobs and how to schedule interviews. Teens also work on their soft skills, like leadership, mentorship, and communicating with co-workers and management.  

RISE TEAM was developed based on feedback from LDS families who shared the difficulties their teens with learning differences had while fulfilling BC Dogwood Diploma requirements and transitioning from high school to work. In response, LDS developed a program that focuses on specific challenges that arise for our students—disability issues that other employment programs or in-school offerings may not address. Dr. Jennifer Fane, Ph.D., LDS Director of Education, explains: “a lot of social skills and conversational skills can be challenging for those with learning differences or those on the [autism disorder] spectrum.”  

As Dr. Fane worked with youths in mock interviews, she realized participants needed extra time practicing their interviewing skills to learn all the different ways a manager might ask the same question, and to respond confidently, or “make that connection in a high-pressure environment” like in an interview. “Those soft skills around answering a question that you didn’t expect caused a disconnect that a lot of our students were struggling with.” 

Another component of RISE TEAM includes taking the leadership and mentorship skills that teens learn about in workshops and putting the Training for Educational Advancement Mentorship into practice as volunteer Junior Leaders in Summer Camps for younger students. Students who complete their volunteer work are invited to apply for a paid work placement as an LDS Learning Centre Assistant. 

Hallie is one of two RISE TEAM participants who were offered employment with LDS after their volunteer service. Rie, our Communications and Fundraising Support, sat down with Hallie to learn about her first-hand experience in RISE TEAM. Building upon the skills she learned as a Junior Leader, Hallie has taken on several new tasks and responsibilities, including helping create materials for our one-to-one sessions, greeting visitors to the Learning Centre, and answering the telephone.   

“I also learned how to transfer calls on the telephone,” Hallie says. 

“A phone?” Rie asks. “All I have is a cell phone now! I don’t think I’d know how to pick up the front desk phone! I wouldn’t want to do that.”    

“It’s kind of scary,” Hallie admits, and they share a laugh. 

“That makes me very nervous,” Rie says, “having to pick up a phone and answer it…and talk professionally.”  

“I feel like it’s good to be brave though,” Hallie says, encouragingly. “I bet you could do it. Anyone can do something if they set their mind to it.”  

Hallie spends 15 hours a week in her role as an LDS Learning Centre Assistant. She works closely with several of our staff on her interpersonal skills and she’s been learning social media skills with Rie. Hallie says one of her favourite things about working at LDS is that “the staff here are really nice and friendly and happy.”  

If you know a teen with learning differences who could benefit from RISE TEAM, check out the RISE TEAM webpage for more details and to register for the 2022 program. 

—Sierra & Rie


Sierra Gemma (she/her) is the parent of an adult child with a learning disability and a former LDS parent. Sierra brings ten years of experience writing for digital communications, grants, and fundraising and 15 years of volunteer and paid work with nonprofit organizations. She has a BA in History and Sociology and an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of British Columbia. As the Communications and Fundraising Manager, Sierra’s priority is to ensure that LDS effectively spreads awareness of learning disabilities and engages the community to participate in removing the intersectional socioeconomic barriers to success for children with learning differences.

Rie Stadnichuk (she/her) is the Digital Communications Specialist at LDS. A recent graduate from Simon Fraser University with a Communications and Economics degree, she hopes to use this opportunity as a way of exploring meaningful work in the field. She is passionate about social issues and creating environments of inclusivity and open dialogue. Rie graciously lives and works on the unceded territory of the Syilx people. 

Funding for the 2022 program is provided by the United Way of British Columbia and the Ted Rogers Community Fund.

We would like to thank the Disability Alliance of BC for their funding of our 2021 inaugural offering of RISE TEAM. 

Apply to our autumn 2022 Early RISErs while availability lasts!Learn more!