Community Foundation grant supports lifelong success for young, at-risk learners

Reading is fundamental to lifelong academic, personal, and financial success. While there’s a significant emphasis on pre-kindergarten through third grade literacy, Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Sun Coast is focusing on fourth and fifth graders to keep the momentum going for at-risk Collier County learners.

“Our children continue needing help with reading,” said Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Sun Coast CEO Joy Mahler, who’s dedicated to helping young people realize their potential. “The difference that mentoring makes for our youth is incredible.”

$15,000 Community Foundation of Collier County grant is enabling Big Brothers Big Sisters to offer its long-running One to One Mentoring Program to under-served students who participate in the Boys & Girls Club of Collier County’s campuses in Immokalee and Naples. The students selected for the program have suffered adverse childhood experiences, such as the loss of a parent or abuse and neglect. These factors are linked to academic failure, loss of job opportunities, chronic health problems, mental illness, and substance misuse in adulthood, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Only 79 percent of Collier County’s at-risk students graduate high school, while about 95 percent of general population graduates, according to the Florida Department of Education.

Big Brothers Big Sisters says its year-round program “is the only evidence-based, research-driven, one-to- one mentoring program for Collier County youth.” The nonprofit is working to pair 60 students with volunteer “Reading Bigs”—the nickname for the organization’s adult mentors. Each Big meets with their student one to four times each month. “What’s neat about the program is that the children learn to read for fun—not for schoolwork they have to get done,” Mahler explained. “At this grade level, it’s about comprehension.”

Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Sun Coast covers 10 counties, and Mahler said there is a focus on Collier County, so it’s ramping up to screen and train volunteers. “This is an expanded program, which is exciting. We have 60 children if people want to volunteer. It’s a program that doesn’t take a lot of time, just an interest in reading.”

Mahler added: “It’s obvious to me how much the individuals at the foundation care about the children in Collier County. They care about their progress,” she said. “All of these kids have potential, and this support is fundamental to their lifelong success.”

If you are interested in volunteering to become a Reading Big, contact Dana Mulholland, customer relations specialist for Lee and Collier counties, at 239-288-4224 or [email protected].