Bridgette Heller, Co-Founder and Volunteer CEO of the Shirley Proctor Puller Foundation, shares her passion for reading that was instilled at a young age, and why it lead her to create the M.A.S.T.R. Kids program, one of four children’s literacy programs funded by the Juvenile Welfare Board. Bridgette also shares how her organization has had to pivot to serve children during COVID, and how important relationships have been during these challenging times. To learn more about JWB’s literacy and grade-level reading efforts, visit https://www.jwbpinellas.org/focus-impact/school-success/grade-level-reading/
In the words of Frederick Douglass, “Once you can read, you will be forever free.” I was educated in a community where the elders truly believed that. We are so blessed to be a part of leading a community that is restoring that legacy. The Juvenile Welfare Board decided to invest more in literacy. They brought together a group of service providers in a couple of ways. First, through the funding of children’s literacy focused organizations. And then secondly, through all of the work that they’ve done in building a collaboration around the grade level reading campaign. Our program is called the SPPF M.A.S.T.R. Kids Program. We focus on Math, Art, Science, Technology, and especially on Reading to really ensure that our children have that as a foundation.
When COVID hit, we introduced our own remote learning platform. The children in our program learn in spite of COVID. One of the things that we saw was that children who managed to stay with us actually avoided any learning loss. We all had to rethink the way in which we were delivering the services. We really had an opportunity to partner with folks like Feeding Tampa Bay to get food out to children, like Read strong to get more of the messaging out around literacy to partner more broadly with the school system, and new programs, like Antonio Brown and his Community Barbershop Book Club, which we helped him launch into an additional 10 barbershops initially, and now they’re up to 15. We’re so blessed to be funded by the Juvenile Welfare Board because children who can read are more confident.
We know that we are stronger together. And I really want to thank the folks at JWB for helping us restore that legacy of literacy for our scholars going forward into the future.