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January 16, 2024

Building Bridges: Empowering Non-Native English Speakers in the Suncoast Region

Maria Schaedler-Luera, Suncoast Campaign for Grade-Level Reading

In the Spring and Summer of 2023, a transformative journey unfolded in the Suncoast region. Alongside TPF Fellow Michael Zimmerman, I embarked on a listening tour with a mission: to unveil the resources, needs, and aspirations of individuals and organizations serving non-native English speakers of all ages.

Our listening tour served as a vital link, connecting individuals, organizations, and agencies with firsthand experiences in serving non-native speakers. Engaging with 25 individuals from 15 diverse organizations, the tour aimed to bridge the gap between service providers and the non-native English-speaking community, fostering a collective commitment to creating a more inclusive and supportive environment for all residents.

The challenges identified during the tour were diverse, encompassing medical and mental health services in multiple languages, translation services, legal resources, immigrant workforce integration, multilingual staff, a centralized guide for information resources, volunteers, adult literacy programs, housing and food resources, transportation, funding, digital access, and more.

In October, a learn-and-share gathering convened participants to explore the outcomes of the “Non-Native English Speakers” Listening Tour. This event underscored the broad spectrum of needs within the population.

Fast forward to January 2024, and our commitment to understanding the needs of this growing population has only strengthened. A second learn-and-share event unfolded, presenting the tour results to superintendents and their cabinets from Charlotte, DeSoto, Manatee, and Sarasota counties.

The story doesn’t end with identifying needs. Key recommendations and opportunities for strengthening were presented, marking a roadmap for future endeavors.

The Suncoast Campaign for Grade-Level Reading, in collaboration with several organizations and The Patterson Foundation, solidifies its commitment to empowering the non-native English-speaking community. Through ongoing Suncoast ESOL/ELL Eco-System Convenings, which have been occurring for over a year, the campaign promotes collaboration, fosters connections, and enhances the educational experience of English Language Learners (ELLs) in the four-county region.

We are always looking to invite individuals who share our dedication to the cause and care of non-native English speakers’ well-being and educational advancement.

As a non-native speaker myself, I am inspired and proud of this initiative. This is a story of listening and a testament to the Suncoast region’s dedication to creating a more inclusive and supportive environment for all its residents, regardless of language or background. Thank you, The Patterson Foundation!


Participating Organizations:

The Patterson Foundation: Michael Zimmerman, Fellow; Maria Schaedler-Luera, Consultant; Cheri Coryea, Initiative Consultant; Kiarra Louis, Initiative Support Coordinator.

Manatee County Schools: Deb Estes, Director of ESOL and Migrant services.

Charlotte County Public Schools: Neysa Juan Febus, Title III ELL Immigrant Achievement & Parent Liaison; Ellen Harvey, ELL Director for Charlotte County Public Schools.

Sarasota County Schools: Jamie Rodriguez, Director of ESOL and Migrant services ; Ruth Rubinstein, ESOL Parents Reach Facilitator; Davian Spires, Family Engagement Administrator; Deanna Miller, High School ESOL Specialist; Vivian Calderin, ESOL Specialist for Elementary Schools.

Manatee Literacy Council: Michelle Desveaux, CEO; Roger Boos, Board President.

The Literacy Council of Sarasota: Susan Bergstrom, Program Director.

Project Light of Manatee: Elena Farkas, Executive Director.

All Faiths Food Bank: Ana Reyes, Site Manager -DeSoto; Odella Rivas, Case Manager, DeSoto County.

Desoto County Schools: Kathy Severson, Director of Career, Technical & Adult Education.

Boys & Girls Clubs of Sarasota and DeSoto Counties: Roscelyn Guenther, Director of Program Services.

Catholic Charities Diocese of Venice, Inc. – Casa San Juan Bosco: Clara Alvarez, Program Manager.

All Faiths Food Bank: Sandra Frank, Chief Executive Officer; Heather Ferjuste, Director of Strategic Initiatives.

CareerSource Suncoast: Anthony Gagliano, Vice President of Business and Economic Development.

Gulf Coast Latin Chamber of Commerce, Inc.: Rebeca Forero, President.

United Way Suncoast: Alma Ovalle, Senior Manager, Education; Maria Castillo-Aguilar, Education Manager Desoto; Ana Rodriguez, Education Manager Manatee; Andrea Doggett, Vice President, Community Impact.

Redlands Christian Migrant Association: Jay Robison, Corporations and Foundations Development Associate.


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