It’s no secret that a child’s literacy level is a
strong predictor of his or her future success in life. Reading and
writing skills help with college admissions, raise confidence, and
open doors in the job market.
So when Jeff Clarkson learned that a large percentage of the kids
who live near his Jacksonville, Fla., company have very limited
access to writing instruction, he knew he had to help out.
“We’ve hosted career fairs in the past, and when we
hold up a football or a basketball, the kids can name sports stars
off the tops of their heads,” says the president of Florida Bonded
Pools Inc. “But if we hold up a pen and ask for authors,
they can’t name any.”
Country Day School’s annual Young Writers Workshop aims
to change that.
Each spring, JCDS welcomes underprivileged children to join its
more affluent students at the workshop, where they meet published
authors, sports writers, editors and other professionals in the
field to learn how such skills can help them in life.
Organizers of the annual event approach public school principals,
librarians and others to identify children who would most benefit
from the two-day program. In 2010, the kids each took two workshops
led by one of nine professional writers, including the CEO of local
publisher Prindle House. Prindle also collected the
children’s writing samples at the end of the event to print
in a special book for each participant.
Clarkson, who sponsored the workshop this year, knows from personal
experience how important it is to point students in the right
“Looking at my own childhood, I was very much into sports,
but my grades weren’t good enough to accept a spot on the
basketball team,” Clarkson says. “Working on my grades
and going to college really helped me set goals and focus on
accomplishing them. I want [these children] to see they can make
more of a difference with a pen.”
Along with footing the bill for this year’s event, Clarkson
and his team helped with swim lessons for at-risk youth following
the workshop. Many children in the program don’t have access
to public pools, which have closed in droves because of the
economy. By combining writing instruction with swim lessons,
Clarkson and JCDS met both needs in one day.
The Florida Bonded Pools team also cooked a barbeque lunch for
attendees, and donated much-needed school supplies.
“My staff was so happy to have the interaction with the kids,
and by the time the event was over, those kids were hugging them
and thanking them,” Clarkson says.
Clarkson’s relationship with the JCDS began when he was
approached to build new pools for its aquatics center. His firm had
constructed the original pool there 30 years earlier.
The business transaction led to a genuine friendship between
Florida Bonded and the school, and as Clarkson learned about their
philanthropic efforts, he vowed to become involved.
“The headmaster said, ‘I’ll be quite honest with
you, you probably won’t sell a pool off of this because the
families are less fortunate,’” Clarkson says.
“But it meant a lot to us to do this.”
While plans are still under way for the 2011 event, Clarkson is
toying with the idea of involving his customers in the workshop, as
volunteers or donors.
“Part of our business culture is celebrating the customer,
and this would be a great opportunity to celebrate with them
too,” he says. “There’s no telling how this thing