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Foundations donate to nonprofit literacy group

by susankirk
Tue, Jul 6th 2010 12:05 pm

The Buffalo News
July 03, 2010,

A local nonprofit has added nearly half a million dollars to its arsenal to help combat illiteracy in Buffalo, after three area foundations pooled together resources to commit the funds.

Read to Succeed Buffalo will put $454,074 toward its current operating budget, said Michael E. Benzin, the organization's director of development. The money not only will pay the bills but pave the way for more fundraising, he said.

The three groups committing funds - the Community Foundation for Greater Buffalo and the Margaret L. Wendt and John R. Oisheifoundations- have helped in a similar fashion for the last few years.

"I think the big deal about this funders' collaborative is these foundations are showing leadership for something that's a serious problem in our community," Benzin said. "I think in many ways they're challenging other corporations to join the movement."

With programs ranging between both early childhood and adult literacy, he said the primary aim has been to spur economic growth using literacy as a tool.

Clotilde Perez-Bode Dedecker, president and CEO of the Community Foundation, considers poverty to be among Buffalo's major challenges. She said supporting Read to Succeed, particularly its early childhood programs, translates into a likely return on the foundation's investment.

"For every $1" put toward children's school readiness, she said, "that comes back $14 to $17."

According to Read to Succeed's Web site, about 40 percent of children entering kindergarten are not prepared for school, largely because of limited oral vocabularies, an indicator of reading success.

The funders' collaborative committed about $529,000 in 2009, some of which Benzin said has rolled over to this year.

"What they fund is our marketing and advocacy for literacy," Benzin said. Read to Succeed, he said, is an organization bringing together others to work in a way "they wouldn't be able to independently."

It was born from an education fund under the Community Foundation about a decade ago, later becoming Good Schools for All. The organization became independent just over a year ago.

Dedecker said the collaborative has provided more than $1 million to the organization over the last three years, leveraging $4.5 million from other entities, many of which are outside the region.

In the past, Read to Succeed was awarded a three-year $4.1 million grant from the U. S. Department of Education for an Early Reading First program, as a part of a partnership with Bethel Head Start, the Child Care Resource Network and Buffalo Public Schools.

Blythe T. Merrill, senior program officer for the Oishei Foundation, said the foundation, too, considers school readiness programs a "critical" community need.

The foundation hopes to expand Read to Succeed's established literacy zone - primarily zip code 14215 in northeast Buffalo. It is there where day care or Head Start centers could be targeted to put model literacy tools straight into the community.

Merrill said a positive expansion of the idea could mean going both citywide or simply to other accessible locations within the same zip code.

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