A head start for those in need: Y outreach program helps struggling children


If a child doesn’t read at an accepted level by third to fourth grade, the chances of failure at school – and life – go up significantly.

The Greater Marco Family YMCA doesn’t like this sobering fact, so for the past 10 years has run a mentoring program called YMCA-Reads!

It’s just one of the organization’s multiple outreach programs, and benefits the children (and parents) of some of the poorer neighborhoods in East Naples.

Assorted techniques are used, including good, old-fashioned books.

But it also benefits the largely-Marco Island pool of volunteer mentors, says Y-Reads! coordinator Esta Alliker. They’re in turn enriched by helping to make a difference.

“They’re reimbursed in non-monetary ways,” says Alliker, who’s always looking for more local volunteers. “They get the satisfaction of changing lives, and knowing that what they’re doing matters.”

In fact, it can change their own lives, she says.

“One young lady switched her college major to become a teacher because of her experience with Y-Reads!” Alliker says.

Another is with a vacation rental company on Marco who was drawn by compassion to be a volunteer.

“The kids just adore him,” Alliker says.

A volunteer has the full attention of a young reader at a mentoring session at Manatee Elementary School near Marco Island.

Commitments are fairly straight forward. Volunteers must obviously have a passion for children and education, submit to background checks and training, and mentor at the Manatee Elementary School site from 3:15 to 5:30 p.m. on designated days.

These can be working the Monday and Wednesday or Tuesday and Thursday sessions.

“Or all of them, or even just one day a week,” says Alliker, adding that the ideal situation would be having one-on-one mentors for the 45 or so children in the program at the moment.

Techniques include books, lesson plans, phonics and “literature circles” talking about text, as well as poetry, while many of the reading programs mesh with those of the children’s school programs, Alliker says.

Funding is jointly by the Y, the Department of Education and the State of Florida, but a sore point with Alliker is that the State reduced its support in last year’s budget.

Just one site in Naples remains.

Two young program members show their enthusiasm during a break at Manatee Elementary School.

“The pot needs to be stirred,” Alliker says. “All those in education are disheartened by the cuts in budget that affect these programs, the arts and physical education.”

Locally, many parents are unable to give English reading or help because of their own limitations in the language, Alliker says.

“And, most don’t often have the time.”

Students are identified as below reading level by Collier County Public School teachers and referred to the YREADS program.


To learn more about volunteering, as well as about the Y’s wide assortment of programs for youth and adults, visit marcoymca.org or call 394-3144.