The Jones County Community Foundation (JCCF) is investing in the future of the area through several initiatives and grants supporting youth.

“Kids are our future. We have to invest in them early on,” said Sherri Hunt, foundation coordinator. “We know that 85% to 90% of the brain develops in the first five years of life — those five years are huge.”

Vision to Learn

During the 2018-19 school year, the JCCF invested $15,000 to continue Vision to Learn, a program that provides eye exams and glasses to children at no cost to schools or families. The initiative was initially piloted in Jones County for students in kindergarten through third-grade thanks to a grant from Theisen’s Home Farm Auto and the JCCF.

“When my daughter breaks her glasses, I cannot always afford to buy her another pair,” said one parent whose child received a pair of glasses to keep at school. “I am happy to know that she will have another pair of glasses at school, so her learning doesn’t suffer.”

Last fall, the JCCF decided to support the program at all grade levels, including high school, in all four Jones County school districts. After 2,325 students received vision screenings, Vision to Learn brought its mobile clinic to 165 students who did not pass the initial screenings. This spring, 148 children received prescriptions for glasses to help them succeed in school and in life.

Campaign for Grade-Level Reading

Vision to Learn is a companion strategy to JCCF’s new Campaign for Grade-Level Reading initiative in Jones County.

“We know that if a child’s not reading at grade-level by third grade, they are more likely to fall even further behind,” said Hunt. “The JCCF created a literacy fund to support exploration of this initiative and what can be done regarding the 33% of children not reading at grade-level by third grade.”

Heather Weers, JCCF coordinator, began exploring the needs of students and teachers in Jones County last fall. She has connected with school administrators and teachers to learn what supports are needed to address chronic absenteeism and has collected data on the demographics as well as poverty rates and other issues in Jones County’s four school districts.

“We want to raise awareness of the issues many children face and how they affect the percentage of kids who don’t read at grade level,” said Weers. “A lot of people don’t understand the baggage some kids are bringing from their home lives to school.”

Grantmaking for Youth Impact

The JCCF has also been strategic about making grants to benefit area youth. The Foundation made a $2,500 grant to Jones County nonprofit Mike’s Kids to provide 2019 camp scholarships and pool passes for youth in need. “Mike’s Kids has gotten more requests for assistance than they could support. These kids wouldn’t have these opportunities without their help. They are a great organization” said Hunt.

A grant for nearly $12,000 to the Iowa State University Extension and Outreach – Jones County office is helping introduce STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) concepts to youth through a mobile technology lab.

“Heather and I work with a lot of different initiatives trying to create equal opportunity for kids, and this is part of that work,” said Hunt. “How do we give every child the same opportunities, knowing they live in some pretty difficult situations? And how do we expose our kids to the constant evolutions in technology? As a society, we have to continue to respond to the shifting environment and be ready to tackle it.”