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.”
The Jacksonville 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 direction.
“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 could grow.”