The following article was written by Gulf Coast Community Foundation and appeared on Sarasota Magazine's website on August 1, 2023.
With school beginning this August, bright yellow school buses return to the roads and students who are eager to learn and excited to meet their classmates cling to their backpacks as they race to make the bell. However, what we don’t often stop to think of are the young learners who need scholastic support throughout the whole year.
Gulf Coast Community Foundation (Gulf Coast) supports students and their educational journeys both through the academic year and in the summer. Summer is the perfect time to provide extra encouragement, mentoring, and educational enrichment for our students, particularly those whose families are under stress or the students who are working very hard to achieve grade level.
“We have special people in our midst who love and care for our students and make sure they thrive not only during the school year, but throughout the summer. These are extraordinary people who are going the extra mile to care for our kids and their families all year,” shared Gulf Coast’s Director of Community Leadership Jennifer Johnston.
A Closer Look
Together with our donors, we at Gulf Coast Community Foundation have awarded over $2.8 million to Girls Inc. of Sarasota County (Girls Inc.) to date. In May, Gulf Coast granted $19,000 to Girls Inc. for summer scholarships. This grant is made possible through the L. Conway Channing Endowment Fund at Gulf Coast Community Foundation and is designated to be used for the Summer Support-A-Girl (SAG) Scholarship Program. This is an ongoing partnership to help families who have the greatest financial needs.
The mission of Girls Inc. is to inspire all girls to be strong, smart, and bold. They serve a vulnerable population of girls in grades K-12 and equip them with life skills so they can flourish as healthy, educated, and independent adults. The SAG program allows Girls Inc. to continue providing vulnerable families with scholarship assistance so their daughters can attend their programs free or at a reduced cost. Currently, 80% of the girls enrolled are on a scholarship. Receiving a scholarship can be life-changing for a girl and her family. Girls Inc. served 22 schools in the county last year with their national program, mentors, and small groups to support emotional health and communications skills.
Gulf Coast sat down with Girls Inc. President and CEO Angie Stringer to learn more.
Q: Why is it important to offer this scholarship program in the summer?
Stringer: “We have a history of providing scholarships. They have gotten even more important over the last few years. Our families struggled so much through COVID-19 and some are still trying to catch up which will take time. Additionally, over the last two years, housing costs have skyrocketed. Our families are working families living paycheck to paycheck. You have to remember that these scholarships are for the most at-risk girls from homeless families or parents who are out of work and struggling the most. We are grateful to Gulf Coast for providing this grant and for all of their steadfast support over the years.”
Q: Do you have a story you could share on the impact of these scholarships?
Stringer: “We have a girl who started with us when she was seven years old. I have seen so much growth in her. Her self-esteem and ability to get out into the community and serve from what she learned here is amazing. She just graduated from Sarasota High School and wanted to go to a university out of state. We visited the university together. She ended up getting enough scholarships to cover all four years. I’m so proud of her. She starts in the fall.”
Bold and Proactive
Gulf Coast awarded a community grant for an Academic Boot Camp Program to J5 Experience, Inc. (J5 Experience) through the Gould Family Trust Foundation at Gulf Coast Community Foundation. J5 Experience is a group of teachers and guidance counselors from Emma E. Booker Elementary who provide wraparound support to the littlest students, filling in any gaps if they are not on grade level. J5 Experience was established in 2017 to fulfill a dream of creating a mentoring group for young girls who are being raised by single mothers. Their mission is to advocate, educate, and provide services to empower the mother’s and daughter’s dreams while developing contributing citizens to our society.
The nonprofit takes a two-generation (2Gen) approach as the mother must be involved to participate. They are currently serving 15 students during the summer. Students receive both academic and social programming through J5 Experience which is designed to enhance development and provide support physically and socially from a certified teacher and a reading specialist.
Gulf Coast talked with J5 Experience CEO Sherry Martin and President Laurice Bartley. Both women are also teachers at Emma E. Booker Elementary. They come alongside a family to make sure that everything that student and parent needs to succeed is available. This could include help with required school supplies, clothing, financial literacy, and a summer experience so students have a better chance at meeting educational goals. Most of their board of directors is composed of mentors. Martin is a single mom and her mother was a great support.
Q: What inspired you to be a loving adult in the lives of these students beyond your incredible role as a teacher?
Martin, with tears in her eyes, responds: “My inspiration comes from my mother who passed away in December. She had a passion for early childcare. She wanted to surround herself with students and people who wanted to work with students. Even though I fought not to do what she did for many years, I ended up taking over her childcare facility in Newtown. It was the right decision for me at the right time.”
Bartley: “I was raised by my grandmother. I’m the only one of all my siblings to go to college. It was about changing the generational courses. I tell all my students to go out there and do their best. No-one was there to guide me. I know the effects of having a mentor and what it can do. As a result of that, I have two kids who graduated from college. One is a pharmacist and one who is pursuing a law degree.”
Q: Tell us more about the 2Gen approach and why it works so well.
Martin: “A mother has to be involved in order for their daughter to be part of J5. We are building both the mother and daughter up together. When the mom wants to participate, it works much better. You need the parent in order for the child to succeed.”
Bartley: “We communicate with the teachers and parents. We are here to help them grow academically. We are the first line of defense for most of these students.”
Q: How do you do it all - manage a full-time job, run a nonprofit, take care of your own family?
Bartley: “We treat these children just as if they were our children. They have a safe place, somewhere to eat, and people whom they can trust. They confide in us. We would love to be able to partner with other organizations that have a similar interest in supporting the parent and child.”
Martin: “It’s all for the children.”
To learn more about Gulf Coast’s bold and proactive impact, click here.