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September 21, 2015

A Safe Place for Creating Great Futures

Jennifer and Maritza are sisters, ages 6 and 7, who recently attended Great Futures Academy, a summer learning program of the Boys and Girls Clubs of Sarasota County. It was their very first summer participating in this program, where they could play with toys they do not have at home, enjoy computer time, read, play games, swim in what the girls describe as a “safe” pool, and even eat in a big cafeteria with new friends.

Reading every day with a teacher who awards stars and prizes for their work was one of the highlights that made Great Futures Academy an experience that will change their lives. The reality is that summer often puts kids from low-income families at a great disadvantage. Many don’t have an opportunity to participate in summer enrichment programs, and as a result, they fall further behind their more affluent peers. These students, who often do not have access to books at home, experience an average loss in reading achievement of more than two months.

A social worker visited Jennifer and Maritza’s home to drop off books for the children and to discuss VPK (free voluntary pre-kindergarten) for the 4-year-old and daycare for the 3-year-old boy. During a home visit, they discussed how the summer is going for mom, dad and the children. Mom shared through a translator that during previous summers, the days consisted of sitting in the apartment with the children helping to clean the house and free time spent watching a lot of television. Dad does not allow the children to play outside or in the pool since it is not safe.

Their mom also shared how difficult it is at home with only one income and six children. When asked how it feels to have two children in the Boys and Girls Club, she reflected that they are happy and waking up early with excitement. As tears streamed down her face, she expressed her gratitude for this opportunity. Throughout the interview, the 3 and 4-year-old played continuously with books donated by Every Child Inc.

As a social worker, it is a privilege to have opportunities to speak with parents in their homes, build trust and relationships that allow parents to feel comfortable enough to share their hardships along with their desires for their children and families. It’s even more rewarding to see their kids have the opportunity to be successful.

The Great Futures Academy is an 11-week targeted summer learning program for children from Tuttle, Gocio, and Emma E. Booker elementary schools. Funded by the Community Foundation of Sarasota County – a lead partner of the Suncoast Campaign for Grade-Level Reading, Great Futures Academy serves approximately 60 children and families at the Roy McBean Club and Lee Wetherington Club.

A contracted social worker does deep family work; certified teachers from the targeted schools provide the academic instruction; educational computer programs reinforce learning; meals & snacks are provided; weekly fields trips/cultural experiences with transportation are incorporated; and parents are encouraged to participate in adult classes. Children receive targeted reading instruction in the morning (1:5 focused instruction) and then participate in other programming throughout the day.

It’s another promising step toward realizing the potential of all our community’s children.

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