Reason Funding Profile: Studer Community Institute

  • January 14, 2020
  • /   Jamie Walker
  • /   peer-to-peer,Customer Profile
SCI Profile

In April of 2016, Studer Community Institute (SCI) became one of the very first Reason Funding customers by connecting our fundraising platform to their Wordpress website so that their supporters could easily contribute to the organization online or on their mobile devices. Fifteen months later SCI ditched the Wordpress box and launched a new website on the Reason Funding platform so that they could have a more user-friendly website and consolidate several services such as web, fundraising, donor management, and eCommerce into a single sign-on.

We sat down with SCI’s Director of Early Learning, Shannon Nickinson, so that we can share some of her success stories and learn more about her goals for Early Learning.   

RF: For those who may not know what is Studer Community Institute’s mission as it pertains to Early Learning?  

SHANNON: The Studer Community Institute has several projects that aim to improve kindergarten readiness in the community by giving parents an understanding of the power of language and interaction in the first three years of life to build a child’s brain.   

That early brain development is key to the foundation of a child’s readiness for school, and ultimately for putting that child on a path for success in school and life. That is crucial in Escambia County, which state education data indicates has a kindergarten readiness rate of 45 percent (as of 2018, the most recently available data).   

That means of the roughly 3,000 children who enter Escambia County School District as kindergartners, about 1,577 of those children don’t have the fundamental language and academic skills they need to be ready for school.  

Studer Community Institute’s tools and content to build an Early Learning City are informed by research-backed strategies to help parents understand why it is important to talk more with their children, and how that is the key to building a brain, building a life and building a community.   

RF: Describe one of your projects that aims to improve kindergarten readiness?  

SHANNON: Brain Bags are early literacy gift bags given to new mothers before they leave the hospital. They include a storybook, “P is For Pelican, the ABCs of Pensacola,” which uses landmarks in our community to build letter awareness and encourage family reading; Baby Steps, a baby book that can be personalized to help parents track early brain development milestones in the first three years of life; a toy; and community resource information and partners to help support parents. It includes library locations, screen time guidelines, healthy lifestyle advice for the first year of life, and more.  

The Brain Bags are assembled by Arc Gateway’s Pollack Industries. Arc offers life- and work-skills training for adults with developmental disabilities to help them contribute to the community. Assembling, storing and delivering the Brain Bags is one of their contracted jobs.  

In the first phase, about 500 of these Brain Bags were targeted for distribution through partner agencies in the community who work directly with parents of children ages birth to 3. These partners include Early Steps (which connects parents of children under 3 with an identified developmental delay to services); Healthy Start Coalition (which uses Escambia County Health Department nurses to do home-visits with pregnant women and new mothers who are at risk of adverse birth outcomes or adverse outcomes for the child in the first year of life); Children’s Home Society (which offers family counseling and support services for clients referred through the foster care system and which operates counseling to pregnant and new teen mothers who are still in school); Families First Network and Early Childhood Court (a specialty court for parents with children under 3).  

RF: When did the Brain Bags program involve the local hospitals?

SHANNON: In April 2017, Baptist and West Florida hospitals began handing out the bags; Sacred Heart began handing out bags in May. All have been using the teaching points with new mothers to help them understand the importance of parent talk in the early brain development of their child. More than 10,600 Brain Bags have been handed out since the program began. In 2018, 5,377 Brain Bags were handed out. In 2017, 3,838 Brain Bags were handed out. In 2019, 2,341 bags have been handed out (YTD 5.31.19) Nurses spend 10-20 minutes per patient (averaged across three hospitals) teaching the bag.  

RF: What kind of results have you seen?  

SHANNON: The Brain Bag survey to ask moms two questions: On a scale of 1-10, rate your knowledge of how parent talk influences early brain development before the Brain Bag and then rate it after. Here is how the responses breakdown by hospital for 2018 (thru 6.30.19).  

West Florida: 6.8 to 9.5  

Baptist Hospital: 8.2 to 9.7  

Sacred Heart: 7.8 to 9.8  

Overall cumulative: 7.6 to 9.7  

In 2017, 15 infant toddler developmental specialists at Pearl Nelson Center, 8 service coordinators at Early Steps, 8 Families First Network Early Childhood specialty court team members and 17 Healthy Start nurses at the Florida Department of Public Health in Escambia County were trained on the Brain Bag teaching points to use them with the clients they reach through individual, one-on-one coaching with parents.   

RF: What kind of follow up do you do with parents after they leave the hospital?

SHANNON: Parents who share their contact information with us receive follow up that includes developmental milestone emails with even more advice about how to fuel the healthy growth of a child.  

RF: How can the community contribute to the Brain Bag program?

SHANNON: The Brain Bags cost $25 each to produce, store, and then deliver the bags to the three area hospitals. Donations are always welcome on our online giving page built by Reason Funding.  

(Note: In 2018, SCI raised over $7,200 for their Brain Bag Campaign using Reason Funding's Peer To Peer Campaign tools.)

RF: How can the community contribute to SHANNON’s overall mission for Early Learning?   

SHANNON: Apart from direct donations to our work, read, talk-sing and play every day all the time with the children in your life. Give books as birthday gifts. Play outside with a child and talk about the things you see together. The interaction that young children crave with adults is good for their bodies, minds, and spirits. And it’s good for adults, too.  

Learn more information about Early Learning and the Brain Bags program by visiting the Studer Community Institute’s website. at