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October 17, 2018

On with the Story!

Editor’s Note: This post is based on the speech Bronwyn Beightol, Manatee Area President of United Way Suncoast, gave at the Suncoast Campaign for Grade-Level Reading Community Update Breakfast on October 17, 2018.

Janet Carter of Coaching Corps shared her dream… “That every single adult will become aware of our ability to influence our children.”

I think that’s a pretty awesome dream.

It was my Dad who taught me to love reading. We didn’t spend a lot of time together when I was young, but my lasting memory of time with my Dad was when he read to us. I have three siblings and we would gather every night and Dad would read us a book. It didn’t matter which book. Sometimes Little House on the Prairie, Pippi Longstocking—my personal favorites—Boxcar Kids, Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew—opening so many doors to imagination.

Every experience was an adventure. My Dad had a great voice, and he would bring all of the characters to life as well as other sounds he thought necessary to create context and richness. And every time he was ready to turn the page, he was so dramatic. Licking his fingers and smacking his lips…. then on with the story.

It’s funny the things you pick up on when you spend that kind of quality, intimate time with family and somebody who really, really loves reading. The ability to read changed my life and my children’s lives by extension.

Reading isn’t just about the reading. It’s about time, being present, and inspiring hope and imagination. It’s about Creating the Future.

United Way believes that every person deserves equitable access to opportunities to create the life they imagine for themselves.

We act on that belief by engaging businesses, nonprofits, media, government and you—our community—in tackling the tough challenges.

We focus on education and financial stability, and we take a “where you are,” child-centric approach to this work.

What do our children need to thrive? Where are spaces that our families and children already go, and is it possible to meet up there?

United Way Suncoast leads the Suncoast Campaign for Grade-Level Reading movement in Manatee County, but because we believe that complex opportunities require thoughtful partnerships, we work closely with an Advisory Council, and we engage what we call a Community Front Line of organizations and individuals with experience, expertise, leadership and a shared commitment to our children’s grade-level reading success.

Thoughtful approaches to addressing School Attendance, Summer Learning and School Readiness are emerging and taking shape.

Most importantly, we are finding our abundance by leveraging the resources that already exist in our community:

  • Connecting families with kindergartners to their first school experience through a variety of community events
  • Bringing the richness of our libraries out into the community
  • Partnering with private philanthropists to create unique dining and learning experiences
  • Exploring the educational system—how the system sees administrators, teachers, and child and family relationships as a whole.
  • Promising partnerships focusing on data collection and sharing that will help us understand the state of access to early learning in our community
  • Bringing and establishing quality early-learning environments in our community
  • Supporting housing to ensure more equitable access to quality early education

Manatee County is going “all in” on ALL children’s grade-level reading success.

Although there are many more Bright Spots, we know that there is SO much more we can do!

When we created our initial plan, we had big ideas and high hopes. Four years in, we still have those ideas and hopes, and we are excited about making space for even more partnerships.

When we come from a place of possibility, real change can occur.

How will we know when we have arrived?

We will know when systems, policies, and practices align to ensure that ALL children are reading on grade level by the time they leave third grade… it is NOT ok that any child is not on a path to succeed in life.

Years later, I reconnected with my Dad. I was a single mom to two favorites, working full-time, and not able to get over to pick him up often. In this Florida heat, my Dad took a bus, and walked the remaining mile or so to my house at least once a week to be able to read to my favorites.

Everybody can do something. Let’s keep asking… who else needs to be here? What can we do together?


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