Jeb Bush and Sarah Owen

FORT MYERS, Fla. (Feb. 24, 2014) – During the 14th Annual Celebration of Reading event held on Feb. 14, former Florida Governor Jeb Bush announced that the Barbara Bush Foundation for Family Literacy will pilot the “Family and Community Connections Initiative” to expand educational opportunities in Lee County, where young children and their low-income parents can learn together.

This new initiative, supported by the Dollar General Literacy Foundation, marks the first community-wide approach to family literacy by engaging multiple early childhood and adult literacy programs. The goal is to coordinate the efforts of both groups – creating new avenues to offer and access the benefits of family literacy. In the spring, these groups will receive invitations to attend educational symposiums on developing coordinated family literacy programs.  Programs selected to participate in the pilot will be provided with capacity-building grants to expand local family literacy opportunities.

The Southwest Florida Community Foundation is a key partner in the project and will be providing training to the participants.

“The Southwest Community Foundation is committed to working with national foundations to help bring innovative programs to our region,” said Sarah Owen, president and CEO of the SWFLCF.  “This partnership will create more programs and provide the opportunity families to have access to the unprecedented work of the Barbara Bush Foundation. Working together is the key to greater success for our region’s families.”

The Barbara Bush Foundation supports family literacy efforts across America.

“Despite independent evaluation data that demonstrates increased literacy skills for parents and children, there are still far too few literacy programs available where parents and children can jointly attend together,” said Jeb Bush.  “Across the nation, we have found that less than one percent of parents enrolling in literacy programs have the opportunity to access family literacy programs that also provide their children, typically birth to age 5, with pre-school opportunities. If we are going to give people brighter futures in America and give families the chance to move up, we need to provide educational choices and opportunities to people of all ages.”

The Lee County initiative will be based on a pilot program launched this year by the Barbara Bush Foundation’s scholarships, which have been provided to 650 low-income families across the country. The scholarships are focused on children, birth to age 5, along with their parents, who enroll in family literacy programs where they learn together. High-performing programs were selected to serve scholarship families in communities nationwide. Each program was graded on an A to F scale based on a number of factors including student-learning gains. Three out of four programs that applied earned an A or B; they offer the classrooms where moms and children on scholarships are now enrolled and making progress.

  • Overall, parents improve their literacy and math skills an average of 1.6 grade levels after nine months.
  • For the Barbara Bush Foundation’s youngest students, 6 to 30 months old, the results are dramatic. Almost half were at-risk for social communication and expressive language delays at the beginning of the year. By the end of the school year, only 15 percent of the infants and toddlers remained at-risk.

Parents in Lee County with children, birth to age 5, will be eligible in the fall 2014 to apply for Barbara Bush Foundation scholarships valued at $2,500. Scholarship families will receive a list of participating family literacy sites in the local community and will enroll next January 2015. Scholarship dollars would then be sent to the school or nonprofit each family selects from the list to help pay early-childhood education teachers, family transportation and other costs not supported by state or federal funding.

The Dollar General Literacy Foundation, a longtime contributor to the Barbara Bush Foundation, is providing the funding for the family scholarships. Since its inception in 1993, Dollar General has invested more than $86 million in literacy efforts that have helped more than 4.8 million individuals learn to read, prepare for the high-school equivalency or learn English.

Founded in 1976, the Southwest Florida Community Foundation supports the communities of Lee, Charlotte, Collier, Glades and Hendry counties and also acts as the regional convener and leader with firsthand knowledge of community needs. With assets of more than $75 million, the SWFLCF has provided more than $57 million in grants and scholarships to the communities it serves. During its 2013 fiscal year, the SWFLCF granted more than $4 million to more than 100 different organizations supporting education, animal welfare, arts, healthcare and human services.

For more information about the SWFLCF, call 239-274-5900 or visit