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Mentoring programs connect children with caring adults and create the structure for a nurturing relationship. The Movement, working with partners from around the state and through the support of longtime early-childhood advocates Carol and Barney Barnett of Lakeland, launched ​ReadingPals ​in fall 2011 ​as ​an early learning and mentoring initiative focused on​ literacy.

The goal: Provide mentors from the private sector ​for children from VPK to third grade. Volunteers must commit to one hour a week for at least 25 weeks ​to ​ensure more child​ren are reading at grade level ​by third grade.

We continue to push this call for volunteers vigorously through ​15 regions and the almost 100,000 Floridians we communicate with weekly. We would seek community volunteers from all walks of life throughout this state.

All children need caring adults in their lives to offer guidance, serve as role models, give emotional support and provide new experiences. Research shows these ongoing relationships result in increased school attendance, increased graduation rates, reduced use of alcohol and illegal drugs, improved attitudes toward the future, and lower levels of problem behaviors such as bullying.

Such involvement may be especially important for at-risk children who often live in more stressful environments. Return-on-investment studies have estimated a return of $4.89 for every $1 invested in mentoring programs, with some studies showing returns as high as $8.18 for closely targeted programs to reduce property crimes among high-risk yout​h.​

A highly cost-effective strategy, mentoring can make a tremendous difference for our youth. Florida has been the national leader in mentoring and can reestablish this position through focus, sustained leadership and funding. This investment has the potential to improve dramatically the prospects of young people in Florida. Join ReadingPals today to help make a difference in the lives of children in need.