Eight Waves invests in the lives of children, youth and families who live in under-resourced communities by working together, building the healthy support systems they need to thrive, and empowering them to create lasting change in their own lives and com
Three teenagers were shot May 26, 2021, in front of a home on Horizon Street in Winter Garden.
That day changed everything for Sara Meyer, founder and executive director of Eight Waves.
Meyer came to help provide crisis management for victims and their families. She said she quickly saw the lack of support and resources for young people who live in poverty throughout Central Florida.
During her time with the children, Meyer said, the students struggled immensely with reading, lacked confidence and were looking for direction with opportunities.
“For under-resourced families, sometimes, there’s just sickness and hygiene, and then even getting to school consistently is difficult,” Meyer said. “They’re dealing with so many outside life factors that reading isn’t their top priority.”
After a few months of research, dedication and building trust within under-resourced communities, Meyer developed eight initiatives to break generational poverty: reading intervention; mentorship; birthday parties; single mom program; life experiences; family stability; books for babies; and hygiene help.
That’s when Eight Waves formed.
Eight Waves invests in the lives of children, youth and families who live in under-resourced communities by working together, building the healthy support systems they need to thrive, and empowering them to create lasting change in their own lives and communities.
The Winter Garden program’s leaders envision a community where every child experiences a variety of positive and encouraging opportunities.
The opportunities then provide a sense of belonging and allow each child the ability to achieve his or her full potential both individually and as a member of the community.
With a background in counseling, Meyer connected with the West Orange Dream Center and began to meet with different families and children to offer support and experience.
After the 2021 shooting, she began to comprehend the extreme need of under-resourced locals.
What began as a tutoring service turned into so much more. After meeting with the kids, Meyer realized the reading level of many individuals was so low that tutoring was not a sufficient option and they needed to do reading intervention.
Kelly Carr, director of operations and programs for Eight Waves, said the students could not understand the directions for the other subjects because they were not reading and understanding them.
She said when the students are struggling with reading, they are generally not interested in practicing the skill — especially when many of them deal with learning disabilities.
According to the Florida Literacy Coalition, more than 2.6 million adults in Florida— or 20% of those 16 and older — lack even the most basic reading skills, leading the area to have the third lowest adult literacy level of all the states. In addition, according to the Literacy Project, 61% of low-income families have no books at all in their homes for their children, 46% of Florida’s students entering fourth grade do not read proficiently and one in four American children grow up not learning how to read.
Meyer said she also thinks the pandemic had an impact on student growth.
In 2021, the Eight Waves curriculum focused on reading skills, helping children from ages 2 to 18 stay on track developmentally and increase their world through reliance and an ability to confidently read.
Meyer said the reading is the most popular initiative and the most needed.
HEART TO SERVE
Carr said she and Meyer had a strong connection from the first time they met on social media. Meyer had posted asking for supplies and resources. Carr, an Usborne Books and More representative, offered to help.
After the two met, Carr, a teacher by trade for more than 10 years, said she knew she wanted to do more than just give the books. She wanted to participate in the program.
“I’ve always really had this heart to serve, and I love kids — I have three of my own — so when Sara told me about the program, both of us are kind of criers, so we were really emotional,” Carr said. “We immediately started working together. Once you meet these kids and you start working with them. … I just love these kids so much, and there’s no other option other than to be like 110% involved.”
Meyer said her and Carr’s missions and visions for the future aligned almost perfectly.
“My biggest goal is for these kids to walk across the stage for high school graduation, to build their confidence, to let them know that there’s people that are rallying for them, the community itself is rallying — it’s not just one person — there are hundreds of people behind her,” Meyer said, pointing to one of the children. “I’m sorry I get so emotional, but even bigger than that, it’s about living a fulfilling life and knowing they have a destiny and something beautiful for them. It’s high school, but it’s also after that and watching them become life leaders.”
And the program is doing just that.
Kenda Brown, a mother from the Eight Waves program, said it’s been life changing for her and her family.
“Eight Waves has helped me and my kids tremendously,” Brown said. “Words can’t express how they made us feel like family. Food, personal hygiene items, words of inspiration that help not only the adults but the kids as well. Showing them that we are all one and that there’s always someone there to talk to, to cry on and most of all depend on.”
Meyer said she feels blessed to give through the program.
“This is my blessing that I get to connect with them, that I get to hear their stories, that I get the trust of the moms, and that was not easy,” she said. “It’s not supposed to be easy; it’s supposed to be possible.”
Eight Waves has a variety of dedicated local organizations that assist in its mission. Those include West Orange Dream Center, One Winter Garden, Hope Center, The West Orange Junior Service League, Gymnastics USA and Buses n’ Backpack.
Meyer said she would love to partner with even more local organizations to make sure the program is targeting as many West Orange families as it can.
By the end of 2022, Eight Waves is hoping to support 100 vulnerable children ($43,500), support 10 families through family stability ($12,000), support 10 single moms ($30,000) and partner with 300 families at 15 local schools for hygiene help ($36,000).
When the program started, it only had five children; now, it averages around 35, with the goal being 50.
Although the program is growing quickly, Meyer said it is important each child has the individual attention he or she needs.
There are several ways both individuals and organizations can get involved. Meyer said Eight Waves currently needs volunteers — from people who can donate an hour of their time to those who can help run a hygiene drive and other activities.
One of the program’s newest initiatives is the Chosen Child sponsorship.
“It’s not if these kids graduate, it’s when they do,” Meyer said. “Everyone says, ‘You can’t save them all,’ and my response is always, ‘Why not?’ If we don’t come into it with that mentality that we can help every child in this program, then we don’t have the right attitude. Every child here is fully capable, and they deserve that chance.”
THE EIGHT INITIATIVES
1. Reading Intervention. Personalized intervention that features reading bodies to emulate one-on-one tutoring and support.
2. Mentoring. Support, encouragement and friendship to help students learn important life skills.
3. Birthday Wish. Celebrating children and making them feel special — even if they’re unable to at home because of financial hardships.
4. Mothers Mentors. Helping moms by providing resources, support and one-on-one connection.
5. Books for Babies. Bringing books to children and families to begin language development at the earliest age possible.
6. Hygiene Help. Connecting with the community and schools to fill backpacks with hygiene needs.
7. Life Experiences. Offering opportunities outside of the home environment to see all the beautiful things the world has to offer.
8. Family Stability. Working with families to find the resources they need so they are able to thrive.
Phone number: (352) 255-7350
Email: [email protected]
Address: 1136 E. Plant St., Winter Garden
Website: Click here.
Chosen Child: Click here.
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