Three years ago, Amanda and John Horne, owners of Anna Maria Oyster Bar in Bradenton, Florida, heard that 51 percent of children in their local Manatee County school system couldn’t read at grade level by third grade. They were appalled.
“This was horrific,” Amanda says. “We had no idea that this was an issue.”
Over cocktails one night, Amanda and John wondered what they could do. Their clientele is largely composed of older “grandparent-type” people. They have four restaurants and a mailing list of more than 24,000 customers. What if they could pair children up with a grandparent figure or somebody who cares about them, read with them and maybe instill them with a love of reading?
Even without advance promotion, when word got out that the SuperMatt Laundromat in Sarasota, Florida, was offering free laundry all day, neighborhood residents formed a steady stream of customers.
Not only was laundry-and-all-the-fixings free—a boon to low-income families who can ill afford the $35 to $50 a week they spend trying to keep their kids in clean clothes—the food bank was there with abundant food to restock their pantries.
Best of all, there were books—lots of books—and plenty of volunteers to read to children while the adults did as many loads of laundry as needed. When the children left, books went home with them.
One way to improve education: communication. For Pinecrest (FL) Vice Mayor Katie Abbott, that means not only regularly connecting with the school board, but also with students. Abbott co-coordinates the Pinecrest Youth Advisory Council, a group of 24 students in grades 8-12 across public and private schools who engage in government, volunteering and education, tackling issues from the environment to preparing for college.