Jo Altilia – Literature for Life

Jo Altilia helms Literature for Life, a Toronto-based Not for Profit Organization that empowers at-risk teenage mothers to gain confidence and build literacy skills so that they can create a better life for themselves and their children. Like us at SheDoesTheCity, they publish material by the girls in their community for other girls in the community; their magazine is called Yo’Mama. Fascinated by such a great program and the woman who runs it, I sat down with Jo to discover a bit more about her career and days at Literature for Life, including advice she had for those of us interested in working within the NPO sector. 

What does a typical Thursday look like for you, starting from when you wake up – to heading to bed?

I am delighted to tell you about Thursdays.  I like Thursdays.  It’s a comfortable day.  It’s a day of reflection and preparation. A summing up sort of day; sorting out the bits and pieces to finish up the week on Friday. It’s a day to plan the weekend and plan activities for the following week. 

Thursday is garbage day in my neighbourhood.  I get up at 6:30, put on the coffee, check the calendar to make sure I put out the right container and get the garbage to the curb by 7.  I suppose I could put the garbage out the night before but I don’t. Leaving the green bin out, after dark, unlocked creates frenzy with the resident raccoons who invite their friends and relations over for a backyard feast.

I usually sit at the kitchen table, read the Globe and Mail, have my breakfast, clean up the kitchen and get ready to go to the office.  

I arrive around 9; check my email and start to put books and writing prompts together for the Reading Circle. I review the plan for the circle with my co-facilitator Jennifer.   At 10:30 we load the car and drive to Christie and St. Clair to Humewood House.  Humewood is a residence for single pregnant and parenting teenagers.  

Facilitating the Reading Circle is one of my favourite activities of the day.  We read, discuss novels and write poetry.  We completed reading The Bite of the Mango by Mariatu Kamara and Sue McClelland. This Thursday involved finalizing a Tea with these authors and the participants. We just began reading A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini.  The discussions about the plight of female characters in these books have been compelling.

We generally get back to the office just after 1pm and have lunch.  Then I meet with the Yo’Mama editor and Poetic Fashion producer.  We review the plan, organize responsibilities and set assignments. Around 3 pm I return telephone calls and emails after which I catch up on paper work and leave for home.   

I arrive home around 6-6:30 prepare dinner and catch up with whomever is home.  I like to read on Thursday nights and listen to CBC.  Sometimes I do the laundry or minor tasks around the house.   

I go to bed between 11-12.   

I like Thursdays. 

What was your first job out of school?

I have had one job or another since I was 12 years old.  My first job out of school was as a grade 6 teacher at Jane and Chalkfarm.   

What are the 3 skills you require most to do your job well?

The three skills most required are imagination, flexibility and leadership.  

What do you love most about your career? 

I love my career.  I love working with youth.  The sharing of ideas and creativity is exciting.  To witness their resilience and growth is affirming.  As I watch them share their learning with their children, family and community I am elated.     

Do you have any warnings?

Never lie.  

If you could try a different career on for a year, what would it be?

I would try a career in theatre as a costume designer. 

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