University of Mississippi students have started a chapter of a new nonprofit group to raise money for literacy efforts across the state by raffling off the opportunity for fans to become an “assistant coach” during an Ole Miss sporting event.
Matt Bolton, an Ole Miss sophomore from Memphis, started the chapter of the nonprofit Coaching for Literacy with fellow sophomores Conner Adkins of Jackson, Tennessee, and Wade Meena of Jackson, Mississippi. Bolton is president, and Adkins and Meena serve as vice presidents. They’ve been working with James-Roland Markos, who is president of the Interfraternity Council and the Associated Student Body cabinet’s director of athletics.
Coaching for Literacy, which also has chapters at Vanderbilt University, Southern Methodist University and Mississippi State University, cites staggering data. The group estimates that 32 million, or 1 in 7, American adults can’t read. They also believe 19 percent of today’s high school graduates are functionally illiterate. They also say two thirds of students who can’t read well by the end of the fourth grade will end up in jail or on welfare.
“Illiteracy is a huge problem,” Bolton said. “If you can’t read, you can’t fill out a job application. You’re pretty much stuck. Illiteracy is something tangible we can work on.”
The group describes its mission as being to increase awareness about the number of Americans who are functionally or totally illiterate and the social problems associated with illiteracy. They leverage “the unique power of collegiate and professional sports” to raise money for effective local literacy programs and schools that work with elementary and middle school students.
Coaching for Literacy was started by SMU basketball player Jonathan Wilfong and Andrew Renshaw, a Vanderbilt student. While in high school at Memphis University School, Wilfong and Renshaw were challenged by a teacher to make a difference in the world. They formed the chapter in August 2013. Bolton was a classmate of Wilfong and Renshaw at MUS.
The Ole Miss chapter is made up of 16 students, mostly members of Sigma Nu, Phi Delta Theta and Kappa Alpha fraternities. They’ve held one auction already, which gave someone the chance to be with Ole Miss basketball coach Andy Kennedy when the Rebels took on Georgia in February at Tad Smith Coliseum.
“Most efforts in life are not successful without the coordination of a great team of individuals, each possessing specific skills and gifts, which they give to support the greater goal of the team,” said Ryan Viner, executive director of Coaching for Literacy.
“This effort to allocate nearly $15,000 to Mississippi-based literacy programs would not have been a success without the literacy programs, our corporate sponsor, C Spire, Ole Miss Athletics, the administration and the students of the University of Mississippi, the support of the Oxford community and the work of the Ole Miss Coaching for Literacy Chapter.”
That raffle raised more than $17,000 through the sale of $10 raffle tickets, which were mostly bought by Ole Miss students. Of the proceeds, nearly $15,000 was allocated to three Mississippi literacy partners.
Leap Frog Oxford, an Oxford tutoring and mentoring program for first-, second- and third-graders, received help starting a summer program for students.
“We recently lost a funder, as frequently happens with nonprofits, and were in search of funding to keep the program afloat,” said Teresa Adams, Leap Frog Oxford executive director. “I cannot tell you how much it meant to receive financial support from CFL. We are now able to serve our very deserving students and continue with our plans for a summer program.”
The Barksdale Reading Institute received help with an electronic library project in Quitman County.
The Mississippi Children’s Museum’s summer literacy program, called “Planting Seeds to Read,” also received funds. The program gives reading help and school supplies to children in kindergarten and first grade who are struggling in Jackson public schools.
“Literacy is one of our key initiatives and our exhibits, programming and outreach efforts all correlate with each other to encourage early language skills development,” said Susan Garrard, Mississippi Children’s Museum president. “Our staff work especially hard planning experiences that encourage children to not only develop reading proficiency but also to discover the delight that stories and reading can bring.”
The UM chapter of Coaching for Literacy has purposely focused its work on Mississippi, which often ranks low in national literacy studies.
“It stays in Mississippi,” Markos said. “We do what we can locally, but it also has an impact statewide. It’s not just Oxford. We care about the whole state.”
They believe their efforts can grow exponentially and they’ve received support for the idea from the UM Department of Intercollegiate Athletics.
“We are excited to once again partner with Coaching for Literacy in order to bring attention and support to a very worthy cause,” Ole Miss head basketball coach Andy Kennedy said. “The ability to read and write at a productive level is the foundation from which all success is achieved. Coaching for Literacy’s mission is to aid in this fundamental skill and we wanted to be involved in that pursuit.”
Courtesy UM Communications