Funding cut for program helping struggling students in Manatee County

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BRADENTON - A program that helps at-risk students on the Suncoast will be forced to shut down after losing funding from the local school district.  Now, Amer-I-Can directors say they need some help in changing youth's lives in Manatee County.

NFL Hall of Famer Jim Brown created the program back in 1988, wanting to give troubled or struggling kids the chance to get on the right track toward success.

"If you can get to the child's need, then you can teach them.  Then they're ready to succeed somewhere else," said regional program director Xtavia Bailey.

But when childrens' needs are not met, it can affect their schoolwork  and future success; the reason programs like Amer-I-Can were created.

"We teach life skills, we teach them about success, eliminating a negative, establishing the facts and basically choosing their best options," Bailey said.

Students one period per day work in a class with life skills facilitators sharing their thoughts, dreams, and even struggles.  They eventually build character and their own success stories by the end of the semester.

"When you see a 12th grader and you know you had that kid in 7th or 8th grade and they're graduating now, that's a huge benefit," Bailey said.  "Even getting to the next grade and seeing a kid change."

But one change that the program in Manatee did not see coming was a loss of funding, when the school board approved a bailout plan that would eliminate it starting with the upcoming semester.

"One of the things that's really difficult in these financial times is you really have to make  decision about you know things that are affecting students, and sometimes that decision may be for a program that is helping them emotionally or socially and not necessarily academically at the time," said Sugg Middle School Principal Sharon Scarbrough.

However Scarbrough said she hopes other private organizations or members of the community will help get the funding needed to a program that has shown much success in her school over the years.

"Now is really that filter point where they make those decisions to go a certain path or another," Scarbrough said. 

"We do have gang members in the program, and if we can get these kids to change their mindset.  They won't take your purse," said Bailey.  "We got some kids that they don't have families pushing them.  We want our kids to be effective and productive citizens.  This is where you start, at the middle school levels."

If you have any ideas on fundraising for the Amer-I-Can program or have ideas about how to generate funding, email Xtavia Bailey at