Empowering Our Children Through Learning

Guest Correspondence


When school began this year, sisters Jennifer and Maritza, ages six and seven, were ready for success. Recent reports showed that along with them so were 63 other students who participated in the Boys and Girls Clubs of Sarasota County’s Great Futures Academy, 21 students from the Early Learning Coalition of Sarasota County’s Bridges to Kindergarten program, and 44 girls who joined the Girls Inc. program Grade Level and Beyond—all funded by the Community Foundation of Sarasota County.

Over the summer, Jennifer and Maritz spent their break from school at Great Futures Academy. While enjoying games and activities aimed towards learning and administered by a certified teacher—whether on a computer, playground, or in an arts room—the girls didn’t realize that they were improving their reading skills and benefitting from something that many children in their situation sorely miss out on over the summer and during the school year, access to books and other learning activities at home.

Each year, students from low-income households experience an average loss in reading achievement of more than two months, and over time these gaps cause debilitating effects on their success in school.

The Community Foundation of Sarasota County’s commitment to innovative summer learning and after-school programs has provided a critical link in education, allowing vulnerable populations of students to participate in programs through a network of nonprofit partners.

But this is only half the story. While these students were growing their reading comprehension and other valuable skills, their parents were benefitting from home visits by a social worker and other valuable services. The families had access to vital classes on parenting, budgeting, and life skills as well as opportunities to expand their own educational and professional development.

Inspired by Ascend at the Aspen Institute, the Community Foundation has focused our effort in working to break the cycle of poverty through a two-generation, whole-family approach by creating opportunities for and addressing the needs of both vulnerable children and their parents together.

Many families in our community are advancing their situations through three key components provided by our two-generation lens:

  • Educational opportunities, providing families with scholarship opportunities, life skills, and parental and professional development.

  • Economic supports, offering assistance with housing, transportation, financial education and asset-building, tax credits, and child care subsidies so parents have an important scaffold to support their efforts in gaining financial stability.

  • Social capital, building on the resilience of families and bolstering the aspirations parents have for their children and for themselves by providing access to a system of peer support, including networking with family, friends, neighbors, various community organizations, and employment contacts.  

One doesn’t have to look far to see the success of this strategy. Since August of 2013, 45 single mothers with children at Alta Vista Elementary have taken advantage of our American Red Cross Certified Nursing Assistant program at Alta Vista. Simultaneously, and on the same campus while their children excelled in the elementary school’s Eagle Academy for students from low-income households, these mothers endeavored to graduate with their assistant nursing certifications.   Now with degree in hand and on a career ladder, the opportunities are endless for these families to improve their quality of life and take one big step forward on the road to financial stability.

Roxie Jerde is the president and CEO of the Community Foundation of Sarasota County.

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