The Jaguars, the Jaguars Foundation, Jaguars players and the Weavers themselves have supported many programs in the community to help at risk children and others in need. Many of these programs and efforts get a good deal of well-deserved publicity, as they should.
However, there are a number of efforts that go relatively unnoticed. One in particular is a special reading program supported solely by the Jaguars front office staff. For the past three years, members of the staff have "adopted" classes in a local elementary school. Staff members created a volunteer program to help enrich the reading program for those students - and give them a little added one-on-one attention.
For two years, the program operated at Mary McLeod Bethune Elementary. This year, the program was at Justina Elementary. Volunteer staff members commit to spend an hour each week in the school. During that time, they spend twenty to thirty minutes alone with each of three students. The primary focus is having the student read some of their favorite books to the volunteer. In reality, the bonds and friendships that are built in these relatively short but regular sessions are even more important.
"Given the size of classes and the press to complete the required work, there is often not the time for me to give each student as much of the one-on-one quality time that is so important to developing skills and a positive self-image," Karen Caroli, one of the teachers, explained. "The Jaguars volunteers not only provide this special attention, but their presence and interest gives a very positive sign to these kids that someone cares and considers their education and them to be important."
Each semester ends with a short party where the children have an opportunity to tell the volunteers how much it has meant to have someone take a personal interest.
The staff volunteers find that they get more out of the experience than they give. "The kids are so warm and eager to spend time with us. They do love to read to us, but they also just like to talk and ask questions. I quickly got the feeling that we were great friends," remarked Sheron O'Neal, a Jaguars volunteer.
The staff program points out the importance of volunteers who will give their time to get out in the community and work directly with the children. The Jaguars facilitated these efforts by identifying the school, made the contacts with the school and the teachers, and made the opportunity available to staff on a purely voluntary basis. The responses from the children and the staff have been enthusiastic.