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Couple’s high school literacy program is one for the books

Barj Dhahan, who attended John Oliver Secondary School, saw how immigrants often fell behind in reading and other subjects.

RAFAL GERSZAK/The Globe and Mail

The donors: Barj and Rita Dhahan

The gift: Helping to raise $100,000

The cause: Vancouver's John Oliver Secondary School

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The reason: To fund reading programs for at-risk students

Barj and Rita Dhahan know how difficult it can be for immigrants to fit into a new community. Mr. Dhahan immigrated to Canada from India at the age of 10 while Ms. Dhahan's parents came from Germany. Both attended John Oliver Secondary School in south Vancouver, an area known for its multicultural makeup, and both saw how new arrivals often fell behind in reading and other subjects.

"I understand that immigrants can have challenges," Mr. Dhahan said from Vancouver, where he founded Sandhurst Group, a real estate development company. "There are so many different traditions, different cultures and different backgrounds."

Now successful business people, the couple are leading an effort to raise $100,000 for a literacy program called the Wonder of Reading. The couple and some family members have contributed $18,500 and they hope to raise the remainder through a network of contacts and John Oliver alumni across the country. The money will go toward a breakfast program, night school classes and student-to-student tutoring.

"We have Grade 11 and 12 kids reading to elementary school kids and making home visits," he said, adding that that encourages parents to read with their children. "Some students need extra help, and this is what we are trying to do. We don't want any of these kids left behind."

pwaldie@globeandmail.com

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