There were Packers and Seahawks and Bears — oh my!
Super Bowl champions — with ties to Pensacola — from three teams helped make the Studer Community Institute’s Light Up Learning fundraiser on June 22 at Sanders Beach Corinne Jones Community Center a success.
Including live and silent auctions items, donations and sponsorships, Light Up Learning raised more than $150,000.
The proceeds will benefit SCI’s efforts — including a partnership with the University of Chicago — to to give parents the tools and advice they need to support the healthy growth and development of their child’s brain in the first three years of life.
The event was led by Catholic High School graduate and Studer Community Institute board member Josh Sitton. Sitton, drafted by the Green Bay Packers in 2008 and part of the Packers team that beat the Pittsburgh Steelers in Super Bowl XLV. He signed a three-year contract with the Bears in 2016.
“My wife and I are truly blessed to be able to give back to the community that we call home,” says Sitton, who himself will become a father later this summer. “We believe the positive development of Pensacola’s youth is paramount to the success of our city’s future.
“We are excited to help continue the effort and investment the Studers have made in this great community,” Sitton says. “We look forward to the impact the Studer Community Institute will have going forward.”
Also on hand were Chicago Bears running back and 2017 Pro Bowler Jordan Howard, who ran for more than 1,300 yards last year, and Cody Whitehair, the Bears starting center. Whitehair was a 2016 second round draft pick who was named to the Pro Football Writer’s Association All-Rookie Team.
Seattle Seahawks wide receiver and Gulf Breeze native Doug Baldwin and Fred Robbins, Tate High graduate and 12-year NFL vet, were among the football heroes on hand to be part of the journey toward becoming an Early Learning City.
Baldwin was an undrafted free agent from Stanford University selected by the Seahawks in 2011, and was part of the team that won Super Bowl XLVIII.
Robbins played at Wake Forest University and was drafted by the Minnesota Vikings in 2000. He played for the New York Giants and was part of the Giants’ Super Bowl XLII championship team. He ended his career with the St Louis Rams. His Pensacola philanthropy, Mr. Robbins Neighborhood, provides guidance and mentorship to young athletes.
Charlie Ward, 1993 Heisman Trophy winner and 11-year National Basketball Association veteran, was on hand as well. Ward was a standout quarterback at Florida State University, where he won the Heisman Trophy, and was a standout basketball player. He played for the New York Knicks from 1994-2004.
Sitton brought friends from his playing days in Green Bay and from his new team in Chicago to lend their support, including former Packers All-Pro linebacker AJ Hawk. When Hawk retired in 2017, he was the Packers’ all-time leading tackler. Matt Flynn, a quarterback who was in Sitton’s draft class in Green Bay. Flynn was Super Bowl champion and starting quarterback for 2007 Louisiana State University National Championship team.
Light Up Learning will help support SCI’s efforts to help parents begin to understand the power of parent talk in the early development of a child’s brain. That effort includes:
— Brain Bags. Beginning this spring, these early literacy gift bags are given to every new mother who gives birth in Escambia County’s three birthing hospitals. The bags are given along with teaching points — developed from materials from SCI’s partners at the University of Chicago’s Thirty Million Words Initiative — to give new parents advice about how to work more words into their interactions with their babies at home.
Building a language rich environment is critical for young children, especially in the first three years of life. Research shows that 85 percent of the human brain is developed in the first three years. It is the time when the wiring of the brain is laid.
The bags include a story book, “P is for Pelican: the ABCs of Pensacola” to highlight the letters of the alphabet using landmarks from our city; a baby book to help parents track brain development milestones for the first three years of life; a toy and a binder of community resources to help parents.
— Brain development teaching in hospitals. SCI is bringing the Newborn Intervention from the University of Chicago at local hospitals. The intervention is a video on an iPad that is shown to new moms before they leave the hospital, that offer important parent teaching about the power of parent talk to build a child’s brain.
— Parent outreach. SCI is conducting parent teaching groups with a partnership with the Area Housing Commission (first as a pilot at two housing complexes, then to expand), to help parents with kids in that age group get coaching they need to understand and do more parent talk. This also includes being a pilot community for the LENA Start program, a series of 13, weekly parenting classes that coach and teach parents about talking more, tuning in to their young children.
— Making play smart. SCI is working on the design and placement of a set of playground decals/signage for city parks, community centers and other public space to encourage parents with young children to learn while they’re at the park in a fun, easy way. We have partnered with the City of Pensacola’s parks department and with Escambia County PTA to fundraise to place these in public parks.