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September 16, 2015

A Common Agenda to Change the Course for Our Children

Those of you who know me or have worked with me know at least one thing — I like to get things done. Whatever that means — from finishing projects and making decisions to taking on challenges and moving things forward. For me, there’s no room for moss, and I suspect that I am not alone.

What I have learned in the past few years of working with our team and our community to “transform” the way the United Way of Manatee County shows up in our community is that it takes community to build community. A common agenda. A common will. A common intention.

The recent Giving Challenge brought this home in a way we did not anticipate. Facing our first attempt at raising awareness and funding to “get things done” for our children in Manatee County, we had the opportunity to hold a live, 12-hour Give-A-Thon on METV.

For 12 hours, every 15 minutes, members of our community came out and told us why they thought the Suncoast Campaign for Grade-Level Reading was important in our community. What resulted was an important illustration of how the campaign touches individuals, businesses, county government, economic development, schools, teachers, nonprofits, parents, families, children – really, all of us. It was both humbling and exhilarating.

The Suncoast Campaign for Grade-Level Reading is working to ensure that every child in Manatee and Sarasota counties is reading on grade level by the end of third grade. Why? That is the critical point at which a child moves from learning to read to reading to learn. It is also a key predictor of how our children will continue to perform in school. Their chances of graduating from high school plummet if they do not reach this milestone. That’s unreached potential for our children and for our community.

Currently, 40% of our children in Manatee and Sarasota counties are not reading on grade level by the end of third grade. What we learned last week is that our community believes this is unacceptable. They felt so strongly that they “showed up and spoke up.”

We have an unprecedented opportunity before us. The Giving Challenge is a moment in time, a catalyst. At its core, it is a way to engage community in community. The days, months and years before us are the true challenge. How will we rise to meet it? What will you do to commit to this change? How will you continue to engage even when it seems that we are not moving forward? Only you can answer those questions.

For me, and for this United Way, we commit to being a part of the solution. We will keep taking steps forward, keep learning, keep gathering, keep listening, and keep the conversation going. We cannot and will not do it alone.

Remember that community building community thing? Here’s where you come in. Change depends on you. Not giving up. Not letting discouragement and the challenges of “slow going” stand in your way. Digging in. Staying informed. Not giving in to the “somebody else will take this on” mentality. Challenging yourself and others.

Let’s continue to find the best way of “getting things done” for our children and for our community. Are you in?

Three easy ways to be a part of the conversation are:

1. Sign up for the newsletter
2. Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter — and tweet messages of your own
3. Check out the local Suncoast Campaign for Grade-Level Reading website as well as the national Campaign for Grade-Level Reading website

Thank you for getting this far; for caring, engaging, committing and giving.

As we move forward, continue to ask yourself, “What role will I choose to take on?”

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