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August 23, 2021


Pierrette Kelly, Suncoast Campaign for Grade-Level Reading

Note: with special thanks to Catholic Charities Helen Rombalski and Clara Alvarez for sharing the impact of Stronger Me, Stronger We and THIS BOOK IS COOL! on the children and families at Casa San Juan Bosco.


The Suncoast Campaign for Grade-Level Reading (SCGLR), The Patterson Foundation (TPF), and Clara Alvarez, education director with Catholic Charities at Casa San Juan Bosco in Arcadia, Florida, work together to strengthen the children and families she serves. TPF knows that meaningful change requires commitment and persistence and encourages this by embracing new ideas that address a constantly changing world.

SCGLR’s Stronger Me, Stronger We programs positively impacted children and families in Arcadia, a community known for agriculture and hardworking citizens. Casa San Juan Bosco provides:

  • Quality and affordable family-friendly, energy-efficient homes
  • A community garden
  • Two community centers
  • A computer lab/library
  • Educational opportunities to support the area’s farmworkers and their families.  

With only 32% of children in Desoto County reading at grade level and a 71% graduation rate in Arcadia, education and empowerment have become top priorities for Clara Alvarez. Clara facilitates educational activities for children and adults to empower them to make positive choices and lead meaningful lives. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the school transitioned from the classroom to virtual, and the local community center was shut down. 

Ms. Alvarez, familiar with the research showing that children from asset-limited families can lose two months of reading skills over the summer, and children who do that consistently can wind up two years behind their classmates by the end of sixth grade, wanted to strengthen and inspire Casa San Juan Bosco students and their families. 

“Last summer, we partnered in SCGLR’s THIS BOOK IS COOL! program and worked with students virtually, ensuring that the students read at the appropriate grade level and maintained their reading skills during the summer.” 17% of children in Desoto County are held back in 3rd grade, mainly because they lack the reading skills necessary to succeed in 4th grade. Data revealed 83% of the children participating in THIS BOOK IS COOL! from Casa San Juan Bosco experienced no learning loss last summer.

SCGLR was honored by the national Campaign for Grade-Level Reading with a Bright Spot award for this innovative program.

Clara Alvarez shared that many of the Casa San Juan Bosco families were stressed and anxious last summer because of COVID-19. Clara also worked with SCGLR offering Stronger Me, Stronger We virtual programs to strengthen families.  

The families wanted to participate in two programs. The first was Mind in the Making, based on the groundbreaking book by Ellen Galinsky entitled The Seven Essential Life Skills Every Child Needs. Participants learned that successful children can focus on their work, control their behavior, figure out what others think and feel, explain what they are thinking, use what they learn creatively, search for reliable information, take on challenges, and engage in learning. During five, 1-hour facilitated workshops, parents learned how to strengthen these essential skills and teach them to the children they love.

The second was The Power of Presence. Author Joy Thomas Moore’s book explores the seven presences — Mind, Heart, Faith, Courage, Financial Freedom, Values, and Connectedness. Through five, 1-hour guided conversations, the families took a journey that gave them new insights into improving their ability to be present with family and community. By sharing their thoughts and experiences, the parents helped each other discover new ways to strengthen connections. 

Casa San Juan Bosco participants shared with Clara the many ways the programs strengthened their lives and the lives of their families.          

If you are interested in any of the Stronger Me, Stronger We programs, please join us. Contact to schedule a workshop. 

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