By Sydney Tancowny
At the end of July, surrounded by young students and their parents at the Reading University graduation ceremony, Augustana Campus recognized Blain Fowler as it’s 2017 Lois Aspenes Award recipient. The Lois Aspenes Award acknowledges significant contributions to life at Augustana by an alumnus or alumna.
Fowler, as almost anyone will tell you, is passionate about Camrose and its community. Since his time at Camrose Lutheran College (now Augustana), Fowler has been involved with various community projects—one such project being the creation of the Battle River Community Foundation (BRCF). Before its establishment, Fowler, along with a small group of others, helped research the feasibility of a foundation that would connect donors with community needs and initiatives and how it would operate. Now, the BRCF is celebrating its 22nd anniversary and has given over $5 million to the surrounding community, with a portion of those donations supporting various areas on Augustana Campus.
In addition to his important work with the BRCF, Fowler has been instrumental in the creation of Reading University, a four-week summer program where struggling grade two and three children build invaluable reading skills. The age of these camp-goers is intentional—basic literacy skills gained in grades two and three form the foundation of the learning students will do for the rest of their lives. And without these skills, learning becomes that much harder. “When there’s an average level of reading, there’s going to be some who are above that average and some below. And it’s those below the average that need help,” said Fowler. “If you can’t read, it closes doors.”
And it is this thought, perhaps, that best showcases Fowler’s qualification for the award—he’s always thinking of how to better support those in his community.
Inspired by a summer reading program in the United States, Fowler saw an opportunity to create something similar in Camrose through community collaboration. Seeking out organizational alliances as part of the BRCF, Blain found willing partners in the Battle River School Division and the University of Alberta’s Augustana Campus. With the Battle River School Division providing programming and staff and splitting costs with the BRCF, and Augustana Campus providing classroom space and nutritious meals, the first Reading University was held in 2009.
Now, almost ten years later, Reading University has seen over 600 students participate and has even inspired the creation of similar programs in Grande Prairie and Red Deer. Fowler continues to give his time and passion to the program, working alongside the Battle River School Division to plan activities, provide resources for struggling readers and personally demonstrate to children attendees how reading is tied to everyday life.
“Blain’s activism and vision within the Camrose community have helped strengthen our campus, advanced philanthropic interest in Augustana, connected us to important community priorities, helped advance community service learning and raised aspirations of youth to someday study at University,” said Dean Allen Berger. “Blain is a wonderful role model of servant leadership, a value that is embedded in Augustana’s mission.”