The OMYF Community Spotlight: Adult Literacy League

By John Denton
May 19, 2011

ORLANDO – At the time when three-year-old Sarah’s family moved from New York to Bithlo in hopes of creating a better life, her parents didn’t have jobs and the family didn’t own a single children’s book.

After two-plus years of work with the Adult Literacy League’s ``Read To Me!’’ book club, Sarah remarkably exited kindergarten reading at a 3.1 level or that equivalent to a third-grade student.

The work with children from Parramore and throughout Central Florida by the Adult Literacy League has been made possible this year largely because of a $30,000 grant awarded to the organization by the Orlando Magic Youth Fund, a McCormick Foundation Fund (OMYF-MFF). The grant has allowed the Adult Literacy League to exceed the number of children that the program reaches in Parramore, going from 60 kids to more than 100.

The Adult Literacy League was one of 19 organizations to receive grants from the OMYF-MFF earlier this year. In all, the OMYF-MFF grants totaled $1 million. Much of that money is dedicated to organizations such as the Adult Literacy League to help children in Central Florida realize their full potential, especially those most at-risk, by supporting programs and partnerships that empower families and change lives.

The Adult Literacy League deals with children and parents individually to provide high quality literature. They also provide take-home books along with education and support to the parents. A direct result of the attention is usually increased reading and increased use of the materials that are sent home. Families that fully participate in the program are able to access up to 30 take-home books through the grant. That, in some cases, represents a 300 percent increase in the home library of some of the families.

``Without this grant money we wouldn’t have been able to serve the children of Parramore,’’ Adult Literacy League CEO Joyce Whidden said. ``We have a program called `reading ready’ by the time the child starts school because if people don’t read to you, you are going to start school behind and not be ready to learn. That’s the focus of our program and we serve kids from three to five years old.’’

Over the last 21 years, the OMYF has distributed more than $16 million to local non-profit community organizations. The Orlando Magic Youth Foundation raises community dollars annually through donations, auctions and events such as the Black Tie and Tennies Gala and the OMYF Golf Tournament. Fundraising efforts then go to the Fund, and are matched at $0.50 on the dollar by the McCormick Foundation. In 2011, in addition to presenting checks totaling $1 million to 19 non-profit organizations, the OMYF-MFF also awarded scholarships totaling $30,000.

``We are proud to be able to assist organizations who are in need during these tough economic times,’’ Orlando Magic President Alex Martins said. ``It is only possible through a collaborative effort of the DeVos family, this community, our players, coaches, staff, corporate partners and season ticket holders that we are capable of distributing $1 million this year. Most importantly we want to recognize and thank those who work every day with the youth of our community … they are the true heroes.’’

The 2011 grant recipients: Adult Literacy League, Boys & Girls Clubs of Central Florida, Boys' Town of Central Florida, Coalition for the Homeless, Conductive Education Center of Orlando, Crealde School of Art, Education Foundation-Osceola County, Elevate Orlando, Foundation for Orange County Public Schools, Foundation for Seminole County Public Schools, Hebni Nutrition Consultants, Hope Foundation for the Homeless, Jewish Family Services of Greater Orlando, Orlando Ballet, Florida Hospital for Children, Harbor House of Central Florida, Hope Community Center, Howard Phillips Center for Children and Families and the Valencia Community College Foundation.

Sarah’s parents marveled at the progress that their daughter made while participating in the ``Read To Me!’’ program. Not only was she ready for kindergarten, but she was exceeding the abilities of many of her peers in elementary school. The parents have credited the work from the Adult Literacy League and the materials that Sarah was allowed to take home through the program.

``Sarah read The Flower Garden all by herself with little help from me,’’ the parents said of Sarah, who is now eight years old. ``Sarah liked decorating her picture. She also liked all of the different colors of yarn. She also liked creating her name with the yarn.’’

The Magic and the Adult Literacy League have worked closely in philanthropic pursuits for years through reading programs for children in Parramore and Central Florida. The Magic were a sponsor of the League’s ``Reading Between the Wines’’ program and Magic Senior Vice President Pat Williams, also a prolific author, was the league’s first author to read to the children.

``The Magic have provided a tremendous partnership and they have benefited us in ways that are philanthropic, but in other ways as well,’’ said Whidden, adding that the ``Reading Between the Wines’’ event has become one of the League’s signature events. ``There are so many ways to help the kids out, and the Magic are always willing to help out any way that they can.’’

John Denton writes for E-mail John at Submit a question to John for his mailbag segment at