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'The Pitch' Perfect: Four Quad-Cities nonprofits given $85,000 to improve child literacy rates

'The Pitch' Perfect: Four Quad-Cities nonprofits given $85,000 to improve child literacy rates

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Christina Conklin and Misi Birdsall, from the Moline Library and Project Now Head Start, were the big winners when four Quad-Cities nonprofits competed Saturday night for $85,000 of funding for their innovative project ideas, each of which was focused on boosting childhood literacy among marginalized local communities. 

Called "The Pitch," the contest was sponsored by the United Way, KWQC and the Quad-City Times. It was televised on KWQC Saturday night.

Jerry Jones, from the Rock Island Martin Luther King Center, won the $20,000 Entrepreneurial Spirit Award; Anika Martin, from Two Rivers YMCA, won one of two $10,000 Stronger Together Awards; and Teresa Babers, from Love Girls Magazine, which was founded by Jasmine Babers, won the other $10,000 Stronger Together Award and the $5,000 audience choice award.

The broadcast included interviews with the representatives of each of the nonprofits, short videos explaining the pitches, interviews with the shows judges and a live musical performance. 

The judges consisted of five Quad Cities community leaders:

  • Reginald Lawrence, superintendent of the Rock Island-Milan School District
  • Lisa McCraw, assistant general counsel for the John Deere company and a member of Women United
  • LaDrina Wilson, founder and CEO of Iman Consulting
  • Joe Slavens, president and CEO of Northwest Bank
  • Debbie Anselm, publisher of the Quad-City Times and Dispatch-Argus

The representatives from each of the nonprofits were participants in a cohort program, organized by United Way, called Together for Tomorrow. Twelve participants met every other week for a two-hour workshop where they discussed ideas and strategies for improving literacy among Quad-Cities children.

Rene Gellerman, president of United Way of the Quad Cities, said the program was born out of necessity during the COVID-19 pandemic, which forced many nonprofits and other organizations that work with children to redesign how they served the community.

All 12 participants were invited to create innovative solutions to help increase the percentage of children in the Quad-Cities who enter the third grade with a third-grade reading level.

“This particular focus area was picked because as we’re looking at the dynamics of our community, in particular in the area of education, we have found that third-grade reading proficiency needs to be improved. If a child is ready to start kindergarten, they’re more likely to be reading by third grade. If a child’s reading proficiently by third grade, they’re five times more likely to graduate from high school," Gellerman said.

The participants developed their ideas during the course of the program, making detailed business plans and outlining exactly how they would implement their programs.

Four of those programs can now be started with the funds they received from The Pitch. 

Each of the participants won one of the four available prizes, and one participant won the $5,000 audience choice award:

Conklin and Birdsall won the $40,000 Rise United Award for their idea to reach out to the community through a traveling book fair that will include culturally inclusive early literacy programming and other forms of assistance for families in need.

"We're going to teach them to love to read," Birdsall said during their pitch.

Jones made his pitch to convene an advisory group of 25% school personnel and 75% parents and caregivers to identify and create engaging, academically aligned summer literacy activities and opportunities. 

"The people who are living this experience need to have a voice in the solutions," Jones said during his pitch presentation.

Martin's pitch was to create an E-sports and narrative video gaming league to connect with children and inspire them to read outside of school through multi-media content and platforms. 

"The point is to meet them (children) where they're at with something that they already love," Martin said as part of her pitch.

Teresa Babers pitched her idea to create multimedia workshops for Black and Hispanic girls culminating into a digital zine and festival.

"Looking at the literacy numbers and that gap, it makes perfect sense that we would start working with younger girls," Babers said as part of her pitch.


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