Education is essential for finding and keeping a job with a livable wage and health benefits. United Way of Marion County is dedicated to helping our community's children by setting key goals:
- Children enter school ready to succeed
- Children have successful educational progression leading to on-time graduation
- Children are ready for success in college, work, and life
United Way is partnering with a variety of local organizations to make sure that kids succeed in school through a variety of objectives and strategies such as:
- Ensuring that children have access to safe, supportive opportunities for age-appropriate development
- Supporting literacy that ensures students are reading on grade level
- Supporting mentoring programs for secondary students
Education Vision Council Volunteers
Rick Ahaus, Community Member
Chris Altobello, Marion Education Association
Beth Aten, Marion County Public Schools
Cheri Brandies, Arnette House
Curt Bromund, Childhood Development Services
Ron Crawford, Chair, Community Member
Lauren Delorio, Public Education Foundation
Anna DeWese, Marion County Public Schools
Roseann Fricks, Early Learning Coalition of Marion County
Lola Gonzales, Accurate Background Check
Mike Graff, Community Member
Karen Jensen, Marion County Public Library
Cash Pealer, Community Member
Troy Sandford, Marion County Public Schools
Kimberly Vollmer, PACE Center for Girls
Affordable Child Care
Ashley Smith is the first in her family to go to college, something the 26-year-old has been doing for almost three years now, part time. That’s because she has to work, juggle classes and raise her 4-year-old daughter Ezmeralda on her own.
Yet, through sheer determination she is just two classes shy of being able to enroll, hopefully, in the nursing program at the College of Central Florida with the goal of becoming an addiction specialist.
Ashley comes by her interest in nursing naturally. As the oldest of five siblings, she was constantly in charge of their care. Also, as a youngster, when her grandparents became sick, Ashley said, “I saw how caring the doctors were and how they really made a difference.”
For Ashley and her daughter, the Early Learning Coalition is what made the difference.
Earning minimum wage and with child care topping $30 a day, plus bus fare, Ashley said she was “working full time just to be able to work full time.” But it wasn’t enough to be about to get out of their “rough neighborhood,” or keep the lights from being shut off.
“I didn’t know what to do, it was a real dark time,” Ashley said of the day nearly four years ago when she walked into the ELC office for the first time. “I’m not the type of person to ask for help. I always thought I should just figure it out, but I couldn’t figure it out … I was in a constant state of crisis.”
But thanks to ELC, Ashley reduced her out-of-pocket costs for child care, and because of that, she was able to save enough to buy a car and move to a safer apartment where Ezmeralda “doesn’t have to see the pretty terrible things she was seeing before.” Ashley said she didn’t even realize she was eligible for assistance.
“When every dollar counts, it was a huge relief,” she said. “Now I don’t have to get up every day and wonder if the lights are going to be off or if there is enough food in the house.”
ELC also offered parenting classes through the public health department and a “Circle of Parents” support group that enabled Ashley to talk to other parents in similar situations, something she said she “really needed.”
Asked what advice she might have for others in need of similar help, Ashley said, “Don’t give up, keep trying because there are lots of options. Don’t be too prideful to ask.”
And for those on the giving rather than receiving end of that help?
“Everyone has it worse than you think, you can’t take anything for granted,” she said. “There are lots of people in Ocala walking around who don’t know what they’re going to do from day to day. If you can help, please help; it is very needed and very appreciated.”