Editor's Note: The Suncoast Campaign for Grade-Level Reading (SCGLR) had its 2nd Annual SCGLR Community Update Breakfast on Thursday, October 5, 2017. Debra Jacobs, President and CEO of The Patterson Foundation, shared this speech.

Time is the non-renewable resource—we will work hard to make this morning worth your investment.

Now we are living in times that challenge the soul. Whether the fury of Mother Nature’s wrath, global conflicts, and massacres that defy reason, it makes us wonder, how can we do good?

Sometimes it feels overwhelming. Indeed that is the very reason we are here today—we not only care but also act. Each of us is one of Mr. Rogers’ helpers. Look for the helpers, and we will always find people who are helping. So I ask each of you to turn to someone else at your table and say, "thank you for being a helper."

Everyone in this room has something in common -- we were each babies, toddlers, then kids, then teens. We are who we are because of parents and family who love us, neighbors who care, and teachers who inspire(d) us. There are children being born today, there are toddlers, kids, and teens, who need us. It is our turn; our society is counting on us!

Just a reminder of why we are here. A child learns to read through 3rd grade, and they read to learn beginning in 4th grade. When the child can’t read proficiently in 4th grade, they are looking around realizing everyone is moving on ahead of them; they are on the pipeline to prison.

The Campaign for Grade-Level Reading translates to both a moral and economic imperative. Every child deserves a chance to be successful, and prisons are expensive. Nobel Prize winner James Heckman reminds us that for every dollar invested in early childhood development the return on investment for society is $7.60.

The reality is that there is no single practice, program, or policy that will change our current reality of more than 40% of children in our region not reading on grade-level by the end of 3rd grade. Yes, that is not acceptable, but progress is happening. This is where we all come in (connective tissue)—each person, business, nonprofit, government agency, school, and media presence is a thread—and when we act in our own silo—there is a lot of action, but the results are not up to our aspirations. When we weave our efforts—oh, what a glorious tapestry we create.

People often ask, “When will the Campaign for Grade-Level Reading be complete?” I can not say, “Not while we are breathing.” To frame it more positively—it all depends on us. It is more important to embrace the Campaign as a journey. If there were an easy fix, we would have done it. So let’s just do a check-in—who was in the room when Ralph Smith came to inspire us back in December 2014? At that time there was no Suncoast Campaign for Grade-Level Reading, only the Community Foundation of Sarasota County leading the work in Sarasota and The Patterson Foundation supporting the national movement. Then there was the national Campaign’s Ron Fairchild’s visit in 2015 when Manatee joined the national movement, and the Suncoast Campaign for Grade-Level Reading was created—who heard Ron during that visit?

So here we are with the Community Foundation of Sarasota County as the lead partner in Sarasota, the United Way Suncoast as the lead partner in Manatee County, and The Patterson Foundation leading the collaborative work of both counties via the Suncoast Campaign for Grade-Level Reading. The SCGLR journey is now celebrating its 2nd anniversary—kudos to everyone who puts individual agenda aside and works together for the children and families in our region. Plus there is that extra pride point of demonstrating that indeed we can work across county lines when we align our values for impact.

Now about those values -- they are on your table -- and while we would love to take the time to read each one aloud, time (that treasured resource) asks that you take the Values home with you and ponder them because they are what keeps SCGLR on track. Know there is depth behind every single word: Integrity, Community, Ardent, Nimble, Results-oriented, Enduring, Authentic, Diligent that spell our I CAN READ!

It’s now time to check the numbers in Manatee and Sarasota counties.
  • How many children 11 and younger are living in poverty? More than 19,000!
  • How many children are on Free and Reduced Lunch? --- 35% of the Elementary Schools in our region have more than 80% of their students hunger-challenged.
  • What percentage of children are missing more than 10% of the school year? In 48% of our elementary schools, 7% of students.
These are mind-warping statistics—but as I said in the beginning—WE ARE Making Progress!

Both Manatee and Sarasota schools—improved 3% points over the last year in third grade reading scores—this is because of the many threads woven together with focus.

So you can see our journey is long, but like the hospitals who have a zero tolerance for dropping babies, surely we can work together as those babies develop to make sure their journey is one of success.

As you depart today—ponder how your thread can be woven vibrantly into our SCGLR tapestry.

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