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September 26, 2018

Kiwanis Club Shares the Power of Reading in Manatee

Bradenton Sunrise Kiwanis Club and Dairy Queen on State Road 64 team up to provide free books to young students.

MANATEE COUNTY — A 6,000-volume book bus stocked from floor to ceiling with books for every age sat outside the Dairy Queen on State Road 64 Wednesday evening. Kids wandered in and out of the Bradenton Sunrise Kiwanis Club’s Book Bus, choosing free books to take home.

Kimberly Chambers, an 8-year old third-grader at St. Joseph Catholic School in Bradenton, stared at the shelves and talked about “The Magic Treehouse,” her favorite book series.

“You get to travel into a different world and the future,” said Kimberly, who eventually selected “The Scruffy Puppy” “I love it.”

The “Book Bash” event was part of a larger effort by the Bradenton Kiwanis Club to get kids reading and get adults into two of Manatee’s struggling elementary schools. Daughtrey and Rogers Garden-Bullock elementary schools are both in the midst of a state-mandated turnaround process. After three consecutive years of earning a ‘D’ on the state’s grading system, the schools must make a C or better this year or else they will be closed, taken over by a private management firm or turned over to a charter school operator.

Both schools have instituted a raft of reforms aimed at boosting the school grade in a short period of time, and the club wants to be part of that change. Through a newly formed partnership called “Schools + Community = Success” (S+C=S), Kiwanis hopes to recruit 100 new mentors for Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Sun Coast who can work with kids in the two schools. S+C=S includes collaboration between Big Brothers Big Sisters, Boys & Girls Clubs of Manatee County, United Way Suncoast, Manatee YMCA, the Anna Maria Oyster Bar, and Parenting Matters.

Andrea DelSanto, the community development director for Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Sun Coast, was a “little sister” herself growing up, and she remembers the “big sister” who mentored her from age 7 through high school. She said the students at Rogers Garden-Bullock and Daughtrey are especially in need of men as mentors.

“There are a lot of single moms (at the two schools), and we need those male figures that can make such an impact,” she said.

Mike Rigo, a board member for Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Sun Coast, said mentors shouldn’t feel like they need to plan lavish outings or elaborate activities. He takes his “little brother” grocery shopping, and they grill out together. He said those activities help students growing up surrounded by poverty see healthy and productive life habits in action.

“The little stuff goes a long way,” he said.

Sharon Barhorst, the Kiwanian who organized Wednesday’s event, said she “got goosebumps” when she met with Rogers Garden-Bullock Principal Pat Stream and heard about kindergarten students being dropped off early at school with nothing to do because their parents had to go to work. She said she hadn’t planned on becoming a big sister because of other commitments, but when she heard that, she signed up right away.

“Everybody has at least one hour free a week,” Barhorst said. “If they tell you they don’t, they’re crazy.”

This story comes from a partnership between the Suncoast Campaign for Grade-Level Reading and the Herald-Tribune, funded by The Patterson Foundation, to cover school readiness, attendance, summer learning, healthy readers and parent engagement. Read more stories at

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