Written by Amanda Horne, Royal Consort of Anna Maria Oyster Bar
We cannot believe that Week #2 of Dive Into Reading is already over, and know the next two weeks are going to fly by just as fast!
During the first two weeks we have had over 250 mentors read to 335 kids from all fifteen Title I Manatee County elementary schools in five different locations. Many of our mentors are volunteering on two or even three days a week and for this we are forever grateful. The kids were SO excited to be taking a field trip to a restaurant and to be meeting new friends who care enough about them to help them learn to read at grade level. Infectious smiles and seeing the world through their young eyes is heartwarming (I may or may not have welled up a couple of times!) — and I cannot tell you how many emails we have received telling us how much it meant to our mentors to spend time with these great kids.
If you are new to Anna Maria Oyster Bar’s Dive Into Reading, let me explain a little bit about the program. We piloted Dive Into Reading last year at our Ellenton location with 4 Title I elementary schools where we had 76 students and 54 mentors. We welcome the kids from each school to the restaurant once a week for the four weeks of summer school.
The children arrive around 8:30 am and are introduced to their mentors before sitting to enjoy a hot breakfast and conversation together, with an emphasis on social skills, such as napkin on the lap, how to use a knife and fork, no talking with your mouth full… basic things we all take for granted. There is then a group read-aloud with our teacher/coordinator, followed by an hour of one-on-one reading time with his or her mentor. We provide the books, thanks to many wonderful donors, based on the subjects and words they will need understand for the upcoming school year… before they board the bus back to school, the kids are awarded colored plastic bracelets based on the number of books they have read. And not only the books they read with us, but also the books they have read at summer school and at home… they are SO excited and motivated by these bracelets – it’s a joy to behold! We are so grateful for the help that we receive from the School District of Manatee County, the Suncoast Campaign for Grade Level Reading and Manatee County Libraries.
The growth from one location to five this year would not have been possible without the generous, philanthropic hearts of our friends at Gecko’s Pub & Grill on SR-70, who are opening up their restaurant to almost 100 kids each week for the month of June. THANK YOU is not enough, but as a company that does so much already in our schools, they understand the importance of this program. Our other location is a true community treasure…and I have to say, I’m a little bit jealous that I don’t get to attend the program each week there at the South Florida Museum… The museum opened up their doors on Mondays, a day they are usually closed for maintenance and again on Wednesdays to host two schools for the program. These kids are so lucky – they have their read aloud in the amazing planetarium with the book projected on the huge screen in front of the night sky, eat their breakfast on the loggia while watching manatees swim by… speaking of breakfast, even though they are at the museum they still receive a hot nutritious breakfast thanks to more wonderful restaurant partners and friends. Monday’s are provided by O’Bricks Irish Pub & Grill – it’s OK… no mimosas or martinis are served… not even to the mentors! Wednesday’s breakfast is provided by our friends at Pier 22 Restaurant & Ballroom. What a phenomenal experience these kids are getting!
So, you may ask the questions – where did all your mentors come from? We have been so overwhelmed with community support for this program – 95% of our mentors from last year signed up again this year, our local government agencies allowed their staff paid time off to volunteer: Supervisor of Elections, Manatee County Clerk of Courts, Manatee County Neighborhood Services and Manatee County Libraries… and then the local businesses who gave their staff paid time off to mentor: Wills Smith Construction, FELD Entertainment, Insurance Time, Sokos Social and more… and non-profits including PACE Center for Girls, Easter Seals, American Cancer Society, Girls Scouts and more… the outpouring of support from business, nonprofits and government has been amazing. You care… you all really, really care about our kids and understand the need to help them succeed in school and in life… thank you!
“Our” kids are getting such special care and attention from their mentors and we know that one on one reading & social time is so important for their development – NONE of this could be accomplished without all of YOU giving us your time, your connections and most of all your love of our community’s children. Thank you, you are making a huge difference.