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June 23, 2021

NOT Giving Up. NOT Giving In: United Way Suncoast Community Update

Bronwyn Beightol, Chief Impact Officer/Sarasota, Manatee, DeSoto at United Way Suncoast

I believe that you see something that you want to get done, you cannot give up, and you cannot give in. — Representative John Lewis, Civil Rights Leader

A powerful statement and a call to action and perseverance as we lead and act intentionally on behalf of our children, our future.  

As our current climate underscores, we continue to bear witness to inequities, bias, and systemic barriers that impede outcomes for many of our community members, especially our children. 

For this movement, the Suncoast Campaign for Grade-Level Reading, to succeed beyond our lifetimes, every single one of us will need to banish our ego and long-held traditions and assumptions to ensure a more perfect union for our children’s future.

Although it is not a new concept to invest in early education and grade-level reading success… as a result of consistent messaging, the questions and intentions are no longer “Should I invest?” but “How do I invest in the best/most promising work?” What will ensure gains, and how do I effectively come alongside our families, neighbors, early learning centers, schools, and the community

And the all-important question: 

How do I know my investment will last, change the future now and for generations? 

It is this question that we have been addressing in Manatee County from the beginning. We continue to invest time, energy, thought leadership, and ourselves in a systems-level approach to generational success—ensuring partnerships that thrive well beyond any immediate initiatives or programs and lay a foundation for our future. And, we are NOT giving up. NOT giving in.

As we shared last year, our community has come together to create The Big Plan, Community United for our Children’s Future. Focused on ten schools and their attendance zones with the highest concentration of school children and families in Manatee County.

In the 2017–18 school year, 75% of the 3rd graders in these schools did not test as reading on grade level. That’s 742 students. Although in the following year, school grades improved, as did some grade-level reading achievements (and we all celebrate that!), they still showed us that we had a long way to go.

In 2020, we found ourselves amid a pandemic. Although we know progress was being made, we do not have access to “feel good” data. The data points that might indicate that we are in the right direction do not take into account “surprises.” However, they show us this one moment in time, not yet reflective of the years of work that it takes to undo patterns and build institutional and community trust. 

What I can say is that “we are arriving!” Every year, we deepen and strengthen how we work together. Leadership from five community-spanning organizations requires sacrifice, institutional change, and a turned outward approach. It is transformational.

Trust allowed us to quickly pivot and come together to support one another and our community—ensuring telehealth services, mortgage and rental assistance, digital access, food, and so much more. Without credit-seeking or hesitation, we teamed up and served together to ensure that we do not risk losing a generation of children.

I think it is important to share several key milestones in how each of us engages in this movement:

Manatee County Government:

Written SCGLR into their Children’s Services Strategic Plan

Ensured alignment of resources by developing GIS map 

Invested in Efforts to Outcomes for the Early Learning Coalition of Manatee County, which allows us to track the success of quality early care through pre-kindergarten

Turned Outward with their approach to Library Services to ensure local access

Aligned with RECAP (Racially and Ethnically Centralized Areas of Poverty), which ensures additional resources in the attendance zones of Samoset and Palm View, our pilot schools

Invested in Summer Learning at Samoset Elementary

Manatee Community Foundation:

  • Worked with Manatee County Government to ensure that Manatee County Government, United Way Suncoast, Manatee Community Foundation team, and the majority of our community nonprofits were all trained on the Results First to program development and grantmaking
  • Invested in joint donor and community education
  • Worked with community advocates to create funds that aligned with donor and community intention: Soar in 4, Dive Into Reading, other Grade-Level Reading investments, to name only a few…
  • Invested in Reach Out and Read

School District of Manatee County:

  • From the beginning, they invested in internal leadership, with the freedom to work externally to develop SCGLR strategies and partnerships
  • Worked with community to ensure alignment of volunteer efforts
  • Turned Outward with Community Conversations and developed the award winning Soar in 4
  • Invested in a Community School at Manatee Elementary
  • Ensured that the strategic plan included SGLR and The Big Plan
  • Telehealth is now available to students thanks to a partnership with MCR Health
  • With an eye on inclusion, they have ensured that communications are in both Spanish and English

Early Learning Coalition:

  • First in State to ensure Unique Identifier Number (UIN) for our children in early learning
  • Utilizes Efforts to Outcomes to help us understand the early learning story of our children
  • Partnership with the SDMC is enviable as they plan and co-create
  • Nemours curriculum pilot efforts in SDMC pre-k
  • As a result of our Town Hall meetings last year, they developed Whatever It Takes 

United Way Suncoast:

  • Realigned our strategic community investments to focus on our Central Corridor and children and families who need us the most. We are grateful for our Strategic Community Partners and their leadership and expertise.
  • Developed several United Way-led initiatives (always with partners!) like ReadingRooms (early learning opportunities where families live); Neighborhood Books (mini-libraries at barbershops and other local places, led by community members); United4Literacy Kits (filled with educational materials and available to support GLR learning)
  • Increased our Community Impact Committee to ensure an even stronger community voice and a more inclusive lens on investments.
  • Developed and lead The Big Plan initiative.

The Patterson Foundation:

  • Leaders from the beginning and who had the foresight to bring four counties together in this effort so that we reach children and families who live, work, play, and learn in this footprint.
  • Their leadership in community-wide awareness and engagement efforts could not be replicated by any one of us.
  • Investment in a data person to ensure that we track and measure progress without placing an additional burden on our District.

All that said, we have engaged neighborhood leadership, Manatee Chamber of Commerce, Manatee Education Foundation, Anna Maria Oyster Bar, nonprofit Strategic Community Partners, among so many others. 

Since we recognize the power of education to create a more equitable future for our children, how will we shore up our foundation? 

Where do we go from here?

Let me remind you of our target:

Increase by half the number of children reading on grade level by the time they leave third grade in ten schools of focus by 2026.

Our two pilot schools are Samoset Elementary and Palm View Elementary. We will add in three more in the new year.

We will continue to ensure a firm foundation for generational success by:

  • Creating tighter in and out of school connections
  • Developing learning communities
  • Investing in community spaces

What can you do?

  • Give
  • Volunteer
  • Advocate
  • Lead

And our mantra is:

“We see something that we want to get done. We will not give up. We will not give in.” 

Join the movement. 



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