Superintendent of Schools Diana Greene and Bronwyn Beightol, senior vice president of United Way, delivered powerful speeches Thursday morning to introduce a new concept to Manatee County: “Manatee Mind Trust.”
And it’s all about the children. Manatee Mind Trust is a bond or unspoken guarantee between Manatee community members and children that, if supported, will eventually assure every child in Manatee County will be reading competently by the end of third grade, or by age 9.
The Trust is backed by the United Way of Manatee County, which announced its commitment during the kickoff of its similarly named 2016-2017 Manatee Mind Trust campaign Thursday morning at Manatee Technical College.
Not only did the United Way pledge to help any children who have been left behind with this new fund- and volunteer-raising initiative, it also found time to give out some awards and honor some people during a two-hour event attended by more than 100.
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Greene asked for volunteers to help children read better, and she may have inspired scores with her speech.
Greene seemed to surprise her audience when she said more than 1,275 third-graders in Manatee are not reading at grade level.
“Can you picture 1,275 students in this area?” Greene said. “They would fill this foyer and down the hallways.”
The room grew hushed when Greene said, “The United States has built its prison system based on the number of retained third-graders.”
After interviews with 400 members of the Manatee County community about what they felt was Manatee’s biggest need, United Way officials said the request they heard over and over was that slow readers in the county need to be given help to catch up.
“We listened and now we are responding,” Beightol said.
For Manatee Mind Trust, Beightol hopes to rally local philanthropists, employers, volunteers and community partners to help children make the jump from “learning to read” to “reading to learn.”
Beightol talked about how important community involvement has been in her life, and Dr. Jennifer Benice, administrator for the Florida Department of Health, Manatee, lent her voice to the need for community action — not only on reading but on health.
But Greene gave a speech that onlookers said she had never given in Manatee County. It was personal and emotional. It was about her trust in United Way and what it will do for kids who can’t read if everyone gets behind Manatee Mind Trust.
“You don’t realize the back stories and how United Way programs touch all of us and make the whole community a better place,” United Way volunteer Debbie Tapp said.
Greene talked frankly and openly about her son who was diagnosed with leukemia at age 2.
Many mornings, she would wake up and see her son’s frail, hairless appearance and think, “Is today the day he is going to die? Is today the day I can stop looking at him, wishing that he would die because I couldn’t bear the pain he was going through?”
Two years later, in 1991, on the advice of a nurse, Greene brought her son to a party for children with cancer. Greene’s son wore a mask.
“He ran toward them because he saw 30 other children wearing a mask,” Greene said. “Before that day, I had never seen him laugh. The thought of me wishing he would die was over. That was the day I realized he was going to live.”
At the end of the party, Greene saw a huge United Way sign. She was a teacher and her school district supported United Way, but she said she never thought about the importance of giving.
“I learned The United Way paid for all of this,” Greene said. “On the same day that I got that inspiration that my son would live, I learned it was United Way that inspired that. From that point, I have been a leadership giver.”
Greene’s son is now 27 and thriving, Greene said.
Greene then circled back emphatically to the 1,275 third-graders not reading at grade level.
“On the day I tell a parent their child is retained, I am basically looking at them and saying, ‘Maybe today your child is going to die, die academically,’ ” Greene said. “United Way is one organization which is galvanizing our community to come together for our children. If we continue to let them die, our colleges will die, our employment opportunities will die, our community will die.”
Special award winners
▪ Publix Super Markets won the United Way Pinnacle Award for contributing more than $750,000.
▪ Manatee County government employees and Tropicana Products Inc. won the Chairman’s Award for each contributing between $100,000 and $199,000.
▪ The Director’s Award for contributions from $50,000 up to $99,000 went to The Mosaic Co., Beall’s Inc., Manatee County School District and Florida Power & Light.
▪ The Fund Drive Award for donations from $15,000 to $49,999 went to ITW GSE Americas, Pierce Manufacturing, SunTrust Bank, Wells Fargo, Manatee Memorial Hospital and Sarasota Manatee Airport Authority.
▪ 2016 Distinquished Volunteer Awards went to Debbie Tapp and Joe Calinski.
United Way facts
- 425 individuals and families received tax assistance from United Way during the last 12 months that brought $500,000 back into their pockets and the Manatee community.
- United Way’s ReadingPals and See Spot Read volunteers distributed more than 7,000 books to children for their home libraries and children were exposed to up to 44,000 new words through the Footsteps2Brilliance app.
- Nearly 3,000 families stayed in their homes and received homeless prevention help through Building Strong Families and other community initiatives, which kept families stable and children in school so they didn’t fall behind.
- United Ways’ FamilyWize discount cards saved community members more than $400,000 in prescription drug costs over the past year.
- 800 volunteers invested nearly 4,000 hours of service, achieving an economic impact in Manatee of nearly $80,000.
- Information from Anne Lee, Chair, United Way of Manatee County