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Federal effort may expand GECAC programs to other SJ Valley cities
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Matthew Refuerzo and the rest of the Super Readers team get ready to bowl during Saturdays Give Every Child a Chance Antone E. Ryamus Bowl-a-thon at the Manteca Bowl. - photo by HIME ROMERO

Manteca may have a partial cure for what is considered one of the biggest drags on improving the economic lot of many San Joaquin Valley residents - the region’s high rate of illiteracy.

Congressman Jerry McNerney, D-Stockton, is working to secure support in the House of Representatives for obtaining grant funds to expand Give Every Child a Chance’s successful community-based free tutoring formula throughout the San Joaquin Valley.

 Federal and state educators have lauded the success rate of the Manteca-based program. Audits show 78.2 percent of  all struggling kids involved in various GECAC tutoring endeavors improved at least a grade level in school.

The tutoring effort is now in its 16th year with 51 sites throughout Manteca, Ripon, Weston Ranch (Stockton) Lathrop, Banta, and Escalon helping almost 5,000 children every week.

Manteca Unified School District Superintendent Jason Messer believes the GECAC  formula can make a big dent in San Joaquin Valley literacy rates.

Messer noted teachers in the district don’t hesitate to refer struggling kids to the various GECAC  programs that range from one-on-one tutoring to group endeavors such as After School Advantage Programs that offers basic homework assistance and enrichment  programs.

In fact, Messer is so sold on its effectiveness that he’s traveled on his own dime in the past to Washington, D.C., to share with education bureaucrats and congress members how effective GECAC has been.

“They do a tremendous job,” Messer said of GECAC.

He also said the administrative staff is sensitive to how each community they serve has different needs, concerns, and issues.

“They (GECAC) will need to keep that in mind if they expand throughout the valley,” Messer said.

McNerney is working to set up a meeting between GECAC representatives and the entire California Democratic Congressional delegation in early March. GECAC Chief Executive Officer Carol Davis is hopeful Congressman Jeff Denham will be able to do the same with Republicans.

The GECAC program was supported by individual SJ Valley congressmen in the past including Dennis Cardoza who stepped down last year.

The push to expand GECAC throughout the SJ Valley comes from federal officials impressed with the continuing success of the non-profit organization. Federal government funding of $2.2 million accounts for 96 percent of the organization’s budget.

The SJ Valley’s low rate of literacy was documented this week in a resource study by Central Connecticut State University. Three valley cities were in the bottom six of 76 cities surveyed. They were Fresno at 70th place, Stockton at 74th, and Bakersfield at 76th.

Data from the U.S. Census Bureau places 16.7 percent of valley residents living below the poverty level. The lack of literacy is considered one of the major contributing factors to poverty.

Davis has been at the helm of GECAC for the past 13 years guiding the organization from helping 127 youth a year to 4,615 kids last year.

“We just had a successful bowl-a-thon,” Davis noted.

Saturday’s event raised more than $20,000 to help underwrite expenses related to the non-profit’s core effort of one-on-one tutoring.

Davis said plans are now being made to move the bow-la-thon back to the last week in February each year. They had hoped the switch would increase participation due to a conflict with the Ripon Almond Blossom Festival but the three-day weekend proved a conflict for others.

Give Every Child a Chance can trace its roots back to a caring teacher at the lone-gone Summer Home School in rural Manteca who helped a struggling immigrant child named Antone Raymus after school so he could understand the basics. That encouraged him to stay in school. Years later when Raymus was touring a California Youth Authority school with fellow Manteca Kiwanis he saw a ward throw his tools in anger. That scene bugged him thinking what would have happened if that teen had been helped like he was. Years later, his desire to help kids succeed prompted him to bankroll the GECAC program. Raymus has since passed away.