Observing children thrive and actively engage in learning can be a gratifying experience, particularly during the alluring summer months filled with recreational activities like basketball and swimming. Despite the temptations of beach trips and playful adventures, these children enthusiastically engage in “bridge books” that act as stepping stones toward their achievement, learning, and personal growth. Whether they encounter obstacles or make swift progress, the opportunity to enhance their reading skills, solve math problems, and foster critical thinking abilities generates a motivating summer atmosphere at the Freddie Solomon Boys & Girls Club in Tampa.
Although the children at the East Tampa club can indulge in their preferred games, it comes after completing four required workbook pages. It’s all a part of United Way Suncoast’s Summer Care initiative, which partners with 14 organizations to fund 28 camps. With dedicated reading instruction and a distribution of more than 1,600 “bridge books” Summer Care prevents skill loss and supports education during the break.
Recently, United Way Suncoast visited three Summer Care Programs in Hillsborough and Pinellas counties to observe the children’s activities. Equipped with our Summer Care workbooks and educational resources, we were pleased to see the children making significant progress.
Start With Me, Inc.
Start With Me, Inc. is a forward-thinking organization fueled by innovative ideas, courageous initiatives, and a solid bedrock of assistance, that looks to make a significant impact thanks to Summer Care. Xavier Russell, the CEO of Start With Me Inc., emphasized the importance of providing youth with valuable educational opportunities so they can come together and bridge the gap in the summer. Many families cannot afford conventional summer camps offered by larger organizations, but United Way Suncoast funds student scholarships. Start With Me, Inc. can provide affordable and accessible alternatives for families.
Amari Jones, Camp Program Manager at Start With Me, Inc. emphasized that access to bridge books, tutoring, and other educational resources during summer programs is crucial for achieving long-term success. She said it is not unusual for students to struggle with their comprehension, vocabulary, basic math, and writing skills, and she cited a lack of resources and support at home as contributing factors. Jones highlighted the value of Summer Care by noting that falling behind during summer break can also make it difficult to recover during the school year.
Girls Inc. of Pinellas
Girls Inc. of Pinellas offers a diverse curriculum covering topics such as STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math), literacy, healthy living, life skills, and social issues related to girls).
Girls Inc. Executive Director Darla Otey expressed support and encouragement for Summer Care. At Girls Inc., the program aims to close the summer gap and address the learning loss experienced by students during the pandemic.
Cohorts of students move through classes and have 45-minute sessions with bridge teachers. During the day, they also learn various skills such as camera operation and creating storyboards.
“Thanks to the funds we raised from our Fuel Her Fire Gala and our annual lunch celebrating women in STEAM, in conjunction with United Way Suncoast’s summer care dollars, we can provide free attendance to approximately 90% of the girls,” Otey said. “Our goal is to ensure that every girl who attends can do so free of charge, and we are only 10% away from achieving this. We are grateful for the support of United Way Suncoast as we could not continue our mission without them.”
Girls, Inc., Center Director Charisma Lovett said one of the students, a girl being raised by a full-time working grandmother, has found Summer Care to be a true blessing. She gets to attend the program daily and interact with the staff members who consistently provide a presence. This experience helps the child to build her character and become a well-rounded individual.
Freddie Solomon Boys & Girls Club
The Boys & Girls Club of Tampa Bay works to empower all young individuals to achieve their maximum potential as responsible, productive, and compassionate citizens.
In a recent visit, Jaymie Johnson, Director of the Freddie Solomon Boys & Girls Club, highlighted the considerable influence of the Summer Care Program on children.
During the summer months, basic reading skills, math, and communication abilities may decline due to lack of practice. With two months of leisure time, children may spend their days sleeping and playing, resulting in disrupted sleep patterns. As a result, when returning to school, students may struggle to regain their academic momentum and focus. They may feel restless, fidgety, and scattered during the first few weeks of school, Johnson noted.
Johnson shared that one of the students in our Summer Care Program encountered difficulties in understanding what they read. “To assist them, we encouraged them to select a book to their liking and utilized flashcards and home practice to aid in their learning,” Johnson said. “This method was effective in helping the students reach their desired reading level and we have since implemented it for other students experiencing similar challenges. Additionally, we have established firm groundwork for reading in our kindergarten program.”
United Way Suncoast Inspires Success
United Way Suncoast’s Summer Care has elevated literacy for thousands of grade school students in Pinellas and Hillsborough counties for over a dozen years. United Way Suncoast has seen firsthand the positive impact of summer programs on children’s success. Its commitment to providing support and resources for continued educational progress beyond the school year helps empower children and foster a brighter future for communities.
If you would like to learn more about United Way Suncoast’s Summer Care Program and all it offers, please click here.