Ferst Foundation’s childhood literacy project is spotlighted
The Fannin County Retired Educators Association presented two special guests at its November 16, 2016, meeting: Jesse Hunter, the current president of GA Retired Educators Association (GREA); and Sandra Ott, a local representative for the Ferst Foundation.
Jesse Hunter retired 19 years ago from the Clayton County School System. On his way to heading the GREA, he served as president for units of the retired educators in Clayton and Pickens counties and was its Area 15 director from 2011 – 2015. Raised in Lakeland in South Georgia, Mr. Hunter now resides in Jasper and vows he does not miss the gnats and higher temperatures of his home area.
By doing things and staying involved, Hunter declared that retired educators are a backbone in their communities. He said his goal in GREA is to make it a stronger organization by growing its membership. At present, the GREA has 28,000 members, but the Teachers Retirement System includes 119,000 members, “so there is plenty of room for more growth,” he stated.
Hunter recalled how the association, primarily through its executive director Dr. Sloan, rallied successfully against Senate Bill 152 this year. That bill would have radically changed the pension structure for new teachers. He emphasized that a larger GREA membership would have more clout with legislators when bills affecting retired teachers are under consideration.
Hunter paused to invite the audience to visit the new Georgia Retired Educators Museum in Flowery Branch. Only a year-and-a-half old, the facility also houses the state offices of the GREA.
Strengthening a connection with the Ferst Foundation’s childhood literacy project is another of Mr. Hunter’s goals. Begun in 1992 in Morgan County, the Ferst Foundation provides a book each month to a child until five years of age. Hunter pointed to research that suggests a child with below average reading skills at the end of the third grade is four times more likely to drop out of school.
Hunter said that seventy Georgia counties already have Community Action Teams (CAT) that raise funds in behalf of the Ferst Foundation and urged the retired Fannin educators to work with its local CAT to support the literacy project.
Faye Sisson, president of the local REA, emphasized the importance of reading skills as opposed to simply tapping on electronic devices for information. She stated that artificial intelligence is no substitute for reading skills, and commended the local Rotary Club for its work in furthering the aims of the Ferst Foundation.
Sandra Ott, the campus director for the University of North Georgia at Blue Ridge, is also one of Fannin County’s representatives for the Ferst Foundation. She told of the Rotary Club’s commitment eight years ago to launch the program locally. As a result, 29,000 books have been distributed in Fannin County through the Ferst Foundation, thus far. Currently, 322 books/month are delivered, but Ms. Ott pointed out there are 950 students eligible for the program in Fannin and asked that the educators work with its CAT to enroll more students into the program.
Ms. Ott pointed out that low-income families spend, on average, about 25 hours of reading-time with their children, as compared to 1,000 – 1,700 hours in middle-income homes. Further, 61% of low-income families do not have a single book suitable for children in their homes. Through the local Rotary Club, the Ferst Foundation makes it possible for age-appropriate books to be delivered to those homes.
The next meeting of the Fannin County Retired Educators will be at the Circle J Steakhouse on January 18, 2017, at 11:00 a.m. Two speakers are scheduled: Sherry Morris of Family Connections and Mark Henson of the Fannin County School System.