Photo: All-American City Award presentation at Sarasota City Hall

Suncoast Region, All-America City Community Presentation

Posted on July 22, 2022 by Beth Duda, director of the Suncoast Campaign for Grade-Level Reading

After a rigorous application process coordinated by the Suncoast Campaign for Grade-Level Reading, the Suncoast Region was selected to be one of 20 finalists for the All-America City Awards, presented annually by the National Civic League.

As part of the award process, we made a 10-minute presentation for the All-America City jury via Zoom, followed by a 10-minute Question and Answer period.

We arranged to use Sarasota City Commission Chambers at City Hall to make our presentation. The jury used our presentation, the answers to the questions they asked us, and our written application to declare the Suncoast Region a 2022 All-America City Award winner!

The following is the complete script for our All-America City Award Community Presentation.

Program Participants


The Script

Beth Duda
I’m Beth Duda, working with The Patterson Foundation. We are in the seventh year of our regional effort on the Suncoast encompassing Charlotte, DeSoto, Manatee, and Sarasota Counties – to help children and families succeed by ensuring they read on grade level.

I am Suncoast

We are Suncoast

Michael Zimmerman
Sí, Somos Suncoast

Angie Matthiessen
My name is Angie Matthiessen, Executive Director of United Way of Charlotte County. Our four-county region has agreed on five pillars driving much of our work. These pillars are School Readiness, concentrating on the first five years of life; Attendance; Summer Learning; and Family and Parent Engagement.

This pillar is crucial to our work. As children’s first teachers, parents and families set the stage for success in the early years. We also work to identify the health and developmental factors that contribute to grade-level achievement.

Kelli Karen Smith
I’m Kelli Karen Smith. SCGLR funds Data Technician positions in three counties to help our efforts be more effective and efficient. We work with four public housing authorities, Arcadia Housing Authority, Manatee Housing Authority, Punta Gorda Housing Authority, and Sarasota Housing Authority.

Ashley Coone
My name is Ashley Coone. Many families living in public housing grew up in the Suncoast region, experiencing generational poverty, making them feel the system failed them as children. Our collective goal is to empower them to reimagine their hopes and dreams. We understand grade-level reading scores indicate much more complex realities. Building trust and relationships throughout the region must come first….before solutions and results. In DeSoto County, as we’ve worked to build that trust, we have had an exponential increase in the number of organizations, businesses, and individuals stepping forward to become part of this important movement, and we are thrilled with our recent 5% increase in 3rd-grade reading scores.

Michael Zimmerman
Me llamo Michael Zimmerman. One of the ways we build trust is by providing translation during our Family Engagement Events. Una de las formas en que generamos confianza es proporcionando traducción durante nuestros eventos de participación familiar

Bronwyn Beightol
I’m Bronwyn Beightol, Chief Impact Officer for United Way Suncoast, serving five counties in Florida. Across our region, nonprofits, school districts, community organizations, agencies, housing authorities, and individuals are doing meaningful work. We realize no one organization, program, or initiative can single-handedly change the trajectory for our most vulnerable populations, and that is why we are committed to cross-sector collaboration and strategic partnerships. In Manatee County, we have put together an Advisory Council including the school district, two foundations, county government, and the early learning coalition, all working together to ensure success in and out of the classroom for the benefit of our community. This group comes together regularly to review progress, set goals, share information, and affirm our commitment to working together to improve student literacy.

I am Suncoast

Erik Arroyo
My name is Erik Arroyo. I am Mayor of the beautiful city of Sarasota, the youngest and first Hispanic to serve in this role. In our four-county region, there are approximately 35,000 children enrolled in school in grades Pre-K through Grade 3. seventeen thousand, almost half, are raised in asset-limited households. Collaboratively, our region is actively working on the interconnected ways housing assistance and neighborhood resources can support individual and family well-being.

Somos Suncoast

We are Suncoast

Kirsten Russell
I’m Kirsten Russell, Vice President of Community Impact for Community Foundation of Sarasota County. We take a 2Gen, whole family approach, investing in education and workforce training for parents and caregivers and simultaneously investing in the children, aligning academic and mental health support for students. Our established work in Sarasota county has heavily informed SCGLR’s emerging work with public housing in other counties.

We have worked with Sarasota County Schools to establish Summer Learning Academies. Starting in 2012 with a donor pilot whose success led to expansion at all 12 Title I schools.

Over eight years, 194 parents enrolled in college, with 80% completing the program and 85% receiving a wage increase. Education has brought these families economic stability, and we are now looking to build financial empowerment and housing opportunities for those families.

We also provide year-round funding for a Parent Education Navigator (PEN) at a school with the highest number of public housing students. This navigator provides educational and career guidance for parents while also ensuring that students receive the necessary academic and mental health support.

I’d like to introduce you to Andréa McPherson and Michelle Stears to tell you a little more about our work.

Andréa McPherson
My name is Andréa McPherson. Parent Voice is important in all community programs. The Community Foundation of Sarasota County has a Parent Advisory Council made up of a diverse group of parents, including some in public housing. We participate in grantmaking and community conversations to be sure our input is part of the strategy of building an inclusive, responsive, and collaborative community.

I am Suncoast

Michelle Stears
I’m Michelle Stears. I am a Pathways to a Better Life Case Manager at Sarasota Housing Authority, funded by the Community Foundation of Sarasota County. This program’s goal is to break the intergenerational cycle of poverty and ensure that parents and their students have the guidance needed to change their trajectory successfully.

I am Suncoast

William Russell
I’m William Russell, CEO of Sarasota Housing Authority. Since 2012 we’ve partnered with SCGLR working with the Community Foundation of Sarasota County and Sarasota County Public Schools to ensure the success of the children living in Public Housing. One of the projects we are really excited about is Lofts on Lemon, a transformative 128-unit mixed-income project that will stabilize families by ensuring that no more than 30% of their income is needed for housing. Thanks to federal pandemic relief funds allotted by Sarasota County, the design stage is moving forward for the second phase of Lofts on Lemon – this one likely includes another 100 affordable workforce units, with construction possibly starting by the end of 2023.

Michael Zimmerman, Kelli Karen Smith, Michelle Stears, Andréa McPherson
Las voces de nuestra comunidad hispana.

The voices of After School and Summer Providers and School Districts and Early Learning Centers of professionals working with Public Housing Authorities of Parents and families living in public housing.

I am Suncoast

We are Suncoast

Cheri Coryea
My name is Cheri Coryea, initiative manager for Digital Access for All. To realize our shared aspirations, we seek to engage residents in conversations, empowering them to learn and grow.

Digital technology affords people an assortment of avenues to connect with one another and the world around us. Strengthening digital access among people of all ages and backgrounds, including those living within our public housing authorities, helps ensure everyone is included in the advancements technology provides.

Becky-Sue Mercer
My name is Becky-Sue Mercer. I’m the Executive Director of Arcadia Housing Authority. Our shared goal to increase early reading proficiency and Equitable Learning recovery is being accomplished through partnerships. I’d like to share about one of the programs we are involved in, Suncoast Remake Learning Days. Across our four-county region, we produced a 10-day, hands-on learning festival where parents, families, and children learned side by side at more than 140 events. This inaugural year drew more than 10,000 attendees. Arcadia Housing Authority hosted events featuring the Circus and Mote Marine Laboratories, and our families had free access to all of the events. To close out our presentation, let’s take a look at some of the magic created this spring.

"We are grateful to the National Civic League and the national Campaign for Grade-Level Reading for giving us the opportunity to shine a light on the phenomenal and inspired members of our region dedicated to making a difference for our most vulnerable children and families." – Beth Duda, director of the Suncoast Campaign for Grade-Level Reading

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