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The Jacksonville Children's Commission Chooses to Invest in the Future

By S. Mathur

The mission of the Jacksonville Children's Commission is "to support families in their effort to maximize their children's potential to be healthy, safe, and educated and contributing members of the community".

Victoria Carlucci, Communications Manager, outlines some of the ways in which the Commission fulfills its mission: "The Jacksonville Children's Commission currently funds nearly 70 afterschool programs around the city. The mission of our afterschool programs is to improve the academic achievement and social skills of at-risk children, while providing a safe and structured environment for children to learn and grow. 93.8% of the students that participated in our middle school afterschool programs were promoted to the next grade, compared to 89.4% of non-participants."

As well as after school programs, the Commission provides summer camps, says Carlucci: "The summer of 2015 we had 92 camp sites around the city. To help ensure Jacksonville's children have food that fosters health, social, and educational development, the commission also supports afterschool and summer nutrition programs. These nutrition programs provide suppers and snacks to participating students and resulted in 631,273 suppers and 332,182 snacks served in 2014-2015!"

Programs cover the entire range of child welfare and growth. Through Healthy Families of Jacksonville, says Carlucci, "The Children's Commission funds a voluntary home visiting program to prevent child abuse/neglect and improve outcomes for Florida's highest-risk families. Services begin prenatally or at birth and promote positive parent-child relationships, child health and development and increased family stability and self-sufficiency. In 2014-2015 99% of the participants and 100% of their children were connected to a medical provider and 98% of children tracked did not experience abuse, neglect, or abandonment more than one year after the completion of the program."

The programs produce measurable results, says Carlucci, and the "mentor training program has shown that children participating in the program are 46 percent less likely to start using drugs and 27 percent less likely to start drinking in relation to their peers." Anyone interested in becoming a mentor can sign up online for a Mentor Training Program. The Commission has a dedicated and compassionate staff. In the words of a former staff member, "Great place to work - I miss it! Staff members are passionate about making a difference in the lives of children and the community."

The Jacksonville Children's Commission also offers programs and trainings for teachers and youth workers. The Early Learning Center provides Pre-K teachers weekly coaching to increase instructional effectiveness. The Commission partners with local non-profits as well. It funds mental health services for students through the Child Guidance Center, Northwest Behavioral Health Services, and Full Service Schools of Jacksonville.

Providing a supportive environment ensures a brighter future for the children as individuals and for the community as as whole. As Carlucci says, "In short, investing in our children now means investing in our future, and it's one of the most prudent and cost-effective investments the public can make."

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