The roots for K is for Kids were planted at Laurel Oak Elementary School in 2002-03 when volunteer mom Karen Clawson and her children, Erin and Patrick Jr., began collecting books and the money to buy books to boost the inventory in the main library, teachers’ classroom libraries, and students’ personal libraries at home. When parents asked to help, Karen launched the first Bring a Book, Bring a Friend Fun’raiser. It was an immediate success, gathering the community together. After four years the word got out and more schools and nonprofits asked Karen to organize a fun’raiser for them, so she launched K is for Kids Foundation and its literacy month “Bring a Book, Bring a Friend” for Children’s Literacy Month with the support of Naples Mayor Bill Barnett. Today K is for Kids’ Readers & Leaders program has benefited children of all ages in more than 50 school and universities.
The story and inspiration behind K is for Kids begins long ago & far away in the Land of Oz…
It was October, and springtime, when the foundation’s two young co-founders were born in the Land Down Under. Erin Clawson was the first to arrive on October 20th, 1993, and brother Patrick Clawson Jr. followed on October 6th of 1995.
The young expatriates were toddlers when they returned back to the U.S., living first in southern California, then Georgia, before settling down in Naples, Florida.
The roots for K is for Kids Foundation began taking hold five years later when Erin and Patrick became students at Laurel Oak Elementary School – Erin was entering the 2nd grade and Patrick, Kindergarten. (Read more at http://www.kisforkids.org/about/ourstory)
When the kids began telling their mom, Karen, what their teachers and classmates needed, she began volunteering. Together, they’d talk about ways to help.
The next year, Karen began a book drive benefiting the school library. The next year, the Clawsons launched the first “Bring a Book, Bring a Friend” Fun’raiser with the support of other parents and staff. The fun’raisers continued and the family also began collecting books for teachers’ classroom libraries. When more schools and nonprofits asked if Karen could organize a fun’raiser benefiting their children, the Clawsons launched K is for Kids founded to help meet the need.
When the kids told Karen that it was important for high school students to earn community service hours for college scholarships and needed more opportunities to apply their leadership skills outside of the classroom, K is for Kids’ mission broadened from readership to leadership. (Today the foundation’s mission is building readers and leaders.)
Paying it forward:
Today, Erin is a first year student or “1L” student at Penn State Law and a graduate of Missouri University of Science and Technology while Patrick is in his senior year in Gainesville with the Florida Gators, but they continue to have a say in everything “K is for Kids”. Karen still volunteers as the young nonprofit’s executive director while the “flock” of children & youth the Clawsons help continues to spread.
From the founder:
It is so fitting that the inspiration for K is for Kids came from children! And that today, teenagers continue to be the energy fueling its cause. I have always said I am a “mom with a message” born out of the mouths of babes. It gives me great honor to have been able to help not only my own children make a positive impact on the children of their community, but to be able to continue helping many other children do so, too.
On behalf of K is for Kids, I wish to thank our two young co-founders, the friends who joined their cause, and the students who continue to donate their time and talents to this young powerhouse.
It is so inspiring to help these young leaders as they continue each year to raise the bar and spread their community outreach. It’s even more amazing seeing these students leave a legacy behind before they even graduate from high school!
To each of the foundation’s past and present leaders, thank you! You truly personify your motto to “Climb higher. Help others.”
For those who wish to read from beginning to…
Seeds are sown one by one, child by child, as young students began working together…
Like many great ideas and pursuits, the seeds for K is for Kids Foundation were first planted and sown at Laurel Oak Elementary School when Karen Clawson began volunteering in her children’s classrooms. Working closely with teachers, she began first by helping small groups of students with their “3 R’s” – reading, ‘riting and ‘rithmetic.
By the end of the following year, and through the next five years, the at-home mom became a full-time “mom volunteer” at the school in response to the needs voiced by her children and their teachers. This list of “to do’s” soon became long as Karen began publishing student-authored books and helping teachers create a publishing center at the school; bringing guest speakers and authors to the classroom; photographing students for the classrooms and school yearbook; guiding rotating teams of “reporters on location” for her daughter Erin’s fourth grade classmates as they wrote scripts and created videos promoting school events for the Morning News TV show – landing them on WINK-TV’s “Eye on Education” for their efforts; and publishing full color newsletters for both Erin and Patrick’s third to fifth grade classes with each team of reporters choosing and writing content and columns to share with their families, conducting interviews with school staff, and creating contests for their classmates – all “educational play” tied into the curriculum.
During this period, Karen also served as a communication liaison between her children’s teachers and parents, publishing telephone directories and flyers about classroom news. She worked with other staff on campus as well, helping the cafeteria manager to create a newsletter to parents, photographing and videotaping students at school events, and promoting the need for more community reading partners for students. Whenever learning of a need, Karen would be moved to help fill it or fix it. She began learning the how-to’s of fundraising and engaging business partners at LOE.
Parents Pitch In
In 2002-03 Clawson simultaneously launched two initiatives with staff and parent support. With a let’s-make-it-happen attitude, Clawson’s efforts to help educators enrich their student’s educational experience proved inspirational and soon parents learning of her efforts pitched in to help.
Dolphin PALS – Parents Assisting LOE Students (a student won the name contest in the group’s second year) – an anonymous team of parents who served as “Secret Santas” during the holidays and helped provide items such clothing, book supplies and eyeglasses for students in need). Through Dolphin PALS, Karen also established and help fund a “John Doe” account for students who did not have the money to pay for lunch (bridging the gap when families were applying for and awaiting lunch assistance or could afford to pay themselves.)
Books Drives: When Karen began helping in the school library, or media center, she saw the challenge faced by staff of stocking up-to-date books and meeting the demand of so many eager readers. Laurel Oak had grown to be the biggest school in Collier County with over 1,200 students, the demand was fierce! She launched a business partners project to raise funds to help boost inventory, the Money for Books Drive.
Bring a Book, Bring a Friend Fun’raiser:
A Community Unites for its Children
When a flyer went home to parents about the book drive and asking for businesses to help boost the library’s inventory of books, parents quickly asked how they could help. Karen realized she needed an event to bring everyone together.
Brainstorming with two other parents, Peggy Avalos and Bonnie Winfield, the next year in 2003 she hosted the first “Bring a Book, Bring a Friend” Fun’raiser in her own home with the aid of parents and staff. Karen invited parents, teachers and neighbors to a luncheon. (How the name was coined: Peggy suggested asking guests to “bring a book”- as she had just received an invitation to an event where guests were asked to bring along an arts and crafts item. Karen added “bring a friend” to the invitation. After the event, a another mom reached out to ask how the “fun’raiser” went. Thus, the name was born! In 2006 the name was trademarked in order to protect its mission and spread its community outreach.)
L-R: Cherise Brummer, Dean, and Charles Frontz, Principal at Laurel Oak Elementary with young students, Patrick and Erin, as they help haul the bounty from what became the first annual Bring a Book, Bring a Friend Fun’raiser, 2002-03 benefiting the school’s library. The event raised $3,000 in books and funds to buy new books and would spur a growing grassroots cause to help educators book inventories keep pace with technology and students’ interest. Photo by Karen Clawson
The Bring a Book was an immediate success and quickly grew into a community gathering of parents, staff, neighbors, and local businesspeople. All enjoyed the opportunity to meet and network while helping their community’s children.
For the following four years, the Bring a Book would be hosted by a parent in a different neighborhood funneling into the elementary school with Karen organizing behind the scenes.
First Business Partner Joins Cause
GL Homes signed on as the first business partner and helped to ignite a community cause: Giving children more books to read in and out of school.
One book read by many children over many years
In order to help maximize the book-to-reader ratio and gain the greatest “bang for the book”, Karen formed the Friends of the School Library* at the same time as the fun’raiser. (*This would later served as the first book donation program of K is for Kids Foundation in 2008.)
Students were benefiting in so many ways: When a teacher was asked what she like best about the Bring a Book event, she said it was the “trickle down effect” – the school library would offer books no longer needed in circulation to the teachers’ classroom libraries or to students directly; and in turn the teachers would offer their students books they could take home and keep.
(Note: Under the K is for Kids banner in 2011, the Foundation would launch its Rising Readers program – giving books to students directly through schools’ reading incentive programs. This program would also spin off an end-of-the-year Top Readers Book Awards event for schools and quickly became the most popular program with principals, educators, families, and most importantly, the young honorees themselves.)
Not forgetting the teachers’ needs, Karen also organized a book drive to help stock teachers’ classroom libraries calling it the “April’s No Fool’s Day” book drive.
Authors Join the Cause!
In its third year, a children’s book author was featured at the fun’raiser.
The following year it was Laurel Oak student, Brandon Lipman, whose moving story in his debut book “My Puzzling Smile” brought tears to many eyes.
Fun’raising Expands: The Bring a Book Benefits the Village School in Naples
In 2007, Karen began addressing the needs and answering requests from other schools. The Village School was the next school to benefit. BONUS: Media specialists reported two years after their fun’raiser that they did not have to another one nor broadcast the need for more books — parents kept bringing in boxes of new books!
A Young Powerhouse is Born: K is for Kids!
Three things inspired Karen Clawson to continue spreading her efforts: As her youngest child was finishing fifth grade at Laurel Oak Elementary School, she was receiving mounting requests from other Collier County schools and organizations to host a Bring a Book fun’raiser for their students. Learning of straining budgets and mounting needs, she and another mom Julie Accorsini set out to gather the thoughts of several community leaders about launching a larger county-wide effort to help boost inventories in shared reading environments and arm students with new books to read, in and out of school. Boosted by the strong community response and support, Karen began dreaming and scheming during the summer of 2007. As her son and daughter attended North Naples Middle School, Karen expanded the Bring a Book into a month-long event under the umbrella of the newly formed nonprofit organization K is for Kids Foundation in November. Students became the “social activists” taking the lead, and soon organized themselves as a team to help to host multiple fun’raisers in the ‘new’ “Bring a Book, Bring a Friend for Children’s Literacy Month”.
K is for Kids launches its mission on Valentine’s Day at North Naples Middle School’s library with a handful of children and students, from toddlers to teens.
Teen Advisory Team
That summer students from Gulf Coast High School and North Naples Middle School created the Foundation’s first Teen Advisory Team. (Note: Within three years, student volunteers would number in the hundreds and come from schools all across Collier and south Lee Counties.) Seeing the need for high school students to earn community service hours, K is for Kids set a twin goal to promote leadership.
Bring a Book, Bring a Friend® Month
for Children’s Literacy
Proclaimed by the Mayor of Naples, the Collier County Commissioners and the Governor of Florida
With strong community interest and support, student leaders expanded the annual “Bring a Book, Bring a Friend” Fun’raiser benefiting one school into a full literacy month addressing the needs of children and students of all ages throughout Collier County. The students’ efforts would be recognized with the first proclamation by Mayor Bill Barnett of the Bring a Book, Bring a Friend [Fun’raiser] for Children’s Literacy Month – a celebration of two of life’s greatest treasures: friends and books!
2008: Teens Launch Fun’raising Literacy Month for Children & Families
In October of 2008*, the Bring a Book, Bring a Friend Month was launched by K is for Kids’ high school student leaders with a weekend-long fun’raiser and book drive at Barnes & Noble at the Waterside Shops in Naples, and later there was a finale fun’raiser downtown on Fifth Avenue.
Activities for children and their families featured guest authors, workshops for kiddies and teens, faces painting, literary scavenger hunts, balloons and balloon twisting, prizes and raffles for, of course, new books!
Business Supporters Continue to Expand their Efforts
Many local retailers, including Starbucks coffee houses and later then-HMA (Health Management Associates) also supported the teens’ grassroots cause by holding book drives.
* The foundation was asked by community leaders to move celebrations to coincide with Naples’ “high season”; so starting in 2011, the literacy month has been held in February.
Young Authors Write a Book Together!
K is for Kids helps place new books into children’s hands
2010-11: FGCU Students Serve as Foundation’s First Interns
After a local business leader referred the first university intern to the Foundation in the summer of 2010, Florida Gulf Coast University (FGCU) interns and service learning volunteers have flocked to K is for Kids, and have made a strong impact to the young powerhouse. They have served as spokespersons on television and radio, and have appeared on behalf of K is for Kids to encourage students to “power up with reading” and to be healthy and strong – in body and mind!
Teens Helping Kids Create a Giant Storyboard on Canvas
In Oct. 2010, the Teen Advisory Team was invited to participate in Naples’ CityFest and Naples International Film Festival “Flavors on 5th & 5th” event. More than two dozen students came to help kids create a storyboard together.
Click here to see the video created by Chuck Ardezzone and InTroubleZone Media:
Teen Advisory Council
In late 2010, seeing the growing ranks of student volunteers, youth leaders created the Teen Advisory Council to help govern their events and activities. They also invited other students to their first Teen Summit hosted by InTroubleZone Media to film PSAs (Public Service Announcements) promoting their cause and engage community members.
2011: K is for Kids Launches Literacy Month with a Big Book Giveway
Young Students a Chance to Climb Aboard a Book Mobile and Choose a New Book to Take home to Keep.
The First Lady of Florida Joins Kids Celebrate Reading Book Fair
2011 Teen Fashion Show: Students Spread Mission in Unique Way
Another strong surge came for the foundation’s grassroots cause in Dec. 2011 as two students leaders, Erin Clawson, the foundation’s first teen leader, and Alexis Martin, both from Gulf Coast High, created and launched the first teen fashion show, the Teen “Head to Toe” Fashion Show in Dec. 2011. The co-chairs were confident that this would be a great way to introduce teens to the foundation and help a great cause, while students earned community service hours and had fun with their friends. A partnership with Barron Collier High School and Collier County Public Schools, it was the first fashion show for both K is for Kids and Barron Collier High.
Link here to read more about K is for Kids’ inaugural Teen Fashion Show: http://www.kisforkids.org/news/teen-fashion-show-a-great-success/
The unique event included a talent portion as well and drew in students from all around Collier and south Lee Counties, offering many leadership and volunteer opportunities. The two student co-chairs managed all aspects of the show, on stage and behind the scenes. A huge success, the fun’raiser collected books and the money to buy new books to benefit K is for Kids’ Rising Readers program for Collier County Public Schools children in need. A portion of proceeds also went to the Helping Hands for Prom program at Barron Collier High.
The following school year 2012-13 , the fashion show moved to February to coincide with Naples social season and was renamed the From the Heart Teen Fashion Festival to commemorate the foundation’s anniversary date, Feb. 14th. The student countywide community project again drew over a hundred student volunteers from across Collier County. Bolstered by a growing number of local businesses donated their services, the teen charity event also doubled the amount of funds and books it raised.
The event “came close to brilliance” reported a guest videographer. The show’s exciting success firmly established the event as the signature teen fun’raiser and highlight of the K is for Kids’ literacy month.
A proud grandparent and businessman in attendance would also remark how wonderful it was seeing so many students working together for a common cause: ” There were kids from all backgrounds working together.”
Photos by Abby Tierney, Barron Collier High
(See more photos here: http://www.kisforkids.org/fashion-show-2013-gallery/
Power of the Word Art Contest: Literacy Marries Art (2011-14)
First hosted by the Collier County Sheriff’s Office in their Community Art Gallery, winners and finalists would be featured at the Art Library at the Von Liebig Art Center, the Vineyards Community Center – Collier County Parks & Recreation, and Collier County Students Art Exhibition. The Foundation organized the event for three years to fill the need for middle school students to test their talents before entering the competitive high school arena.
Autumn 2011-current: Rising Readers and EOY Top Reader Book Awards are Launched!
In Oct. 2011, K is for Kids launched its Rising Readers program at its focus school Golden Terrace Elementary Intermediate. Through schools and nonprofit organizations’ reading incentive programs, the program places news books into the hands of children to take home and keep – when students reach goals set by their media specialists and teachers they earn a new book.
Throughout the school year, media specialists who collaborate with their schools’ teachers, are invited to come shop for new books for their students at K is for Kids’ book storage rooms at Cypress Self Storage.
Spring 2012: End-of-Year Top (Rising) Readers Book Awards.
Media specialists also personally select books for students being honored as top readers at their school that the students may choose from for the End-of-Year Book Awards sponsored by K is for Kids. Schools may select their top readers based on points scored in reading programs, the most words read, the most dedicated readers and those students who have made the greatest gains in their reading lexile scores.
The annual book awards quickly became K is for Kids’ most popular program with principals, teachers and parents, and especially, the young honorees themselves.
Spring 2013: K is for Kids sponsors field trips for Top Reader honorees
Top Readers win the opportunity to visit the Waterside Shops in Naples, enjoying lunch at California Pizza Kitchen, a visit to the Apple store, and shopping for new books at Barnes & Noble Booksellers! For many of the young honorees, this will mark their first visit to a bookstore.
Fun’raising Season Leads to Giving Season
Each year since 2008, Barnes & Noble Booksellers has conducted its Holiday Book Drive benefiting K is for Kids. Hundreds and sometimes thousands of books are generously donated by its patrons for K is for Kids to distribute to children in need throughout the holidays and into the New Year.
The foundation and all the children and youth who receive new books thank Barnes & Noble Booksellers’ patrons and staff for the time and generosity!
10,000 Books Donated to K is for Kids for the Biggest Book Giveaway Yet
In January 2012, the Book Warehouse at the Miromar Outlet Stores was forced to close their doors, but they didn’t leave local children empty handed – they donated 10,000 books to K is for Kids!
Community members such as the Kiwanis Club of North Naples, AMI-Kids of Ft. Myers and members of the Teen Advisory Team helped the Foundation move and organize the mountain of boxes. Target stores donated bookshelves and K is for Kids’ high school students decorated the three warehouse rooms – a warm and charming cottage room for children’s books, a white “Zen” room for teen books, and a home “study” room for advanced reading books – all generously donated by Cypress Self Storage.
Result: K is for Kids invited media specialists, then teachers and other nonprofits from across Collier County to its first Big Book Giveaway! Students soon had new books in their hands.
WINK-TV reported on both ends of the story, when the Book Warehouse closed and when we had the happy ending! Click on the videos to see the news broadcasts:
Students and adults volunteered to organize the books and set up the rooms.
Media specialists and teachers, sometimes with their children helping, came to select new books for their students.
Shown below: Students bring the books into the school library and get them ready to distribute.
Books are given by FGCU students to children at Brightest Horizons (now Gladiolus Learning Center) in Ft. Myers…
and also to children at the RCMA Center in Bonita Springs.
2012-13: FGCU Interns form First Student “Executive” Management Team
In 2012-13, FGCU students formed the first “executive management team” serving under Clawson, helping to advise the K is for Kids’ high school student leaders on business activities, communication, and project execution.
Come back soon for recaps on our most recent yeas as K is for Kids Readers and Leaders Program continues to experience remarkable growth in community outreach!
2014 – current
Watch for future updates! So many exciting developments, it’s hard to keep up!
About our Founder
Founder Karen Clawson’s devotion to the enrichment of children’s education and youth development is embodied in the formation and growth of K is for Kids® Foundation.
Her compassion sprung from her own children’s interest and wish to help their fellow classmates. “The first student leaders of K is for Kids were my two children, Erin Elizabeth and Patrick Joseph,” said Karen. “They would tell me things they wish could be done in order to help and it wasn’t long before I began supporting their ideas and efforts.”
Karen was an “Outstanding Citizen of the Year” nominee in 2016 and said that it was the testimonial letters from the students themselves that became the drumbeat pushing her philanthropic efforts forward, “There are so many deserving children and youth who need our help. How can I ‘retire’ as a volunteer knowing that a young reader might not be receive his or her hard earned book award that year, or that a teenager so eager to succeed might not get the mentoring and enrichment opportunities they need to get into college or get a job?”
Karen was named as “Parent of the Year” by Missouri University Science & Technology Kappa Delta-Epsilon Alpha, a quiet honor in 2015, but one that most pulled her heartstrings (Erin, her daughter, is a member of the KD sorority).
Nominated for 25 Over 50: Vision. Talent. Impact. (Honorees will be named April 22nd.) Sponsored by the Naples Daily News, the first annual 25 over 50 Awards Program salutes the accomplished and exceptional leaders of Collier and Lee counties who continue to leave an imprint on our thriving community through their achievements, leadership abilities, philanthropic efforts, and dedication to the betterment of Southwest Florida.
Karen was named one of the Women of Initiative 2014 by the Community Foundation of Collier County, an award that honors ten local women leaders who, through their leadership styles, innovation, energy, and dedication of their time and talent, have helped change the face of their community and are an inspiration to all women seeking to make a difference through philanthropy and civic engagement”.
She was was also honored as one of WGCU’s inaugural MAKERS 2013, an award “honoring exceptional women who have impacted Southwest Florida’s past, present and future by serving as the ‘first’ in their field; affecting lasting change; building community; defying social norms; and leaving a legacy.”
She has been nominated for Naples Citizen of the Year and Collier County Public Schools’ (CCPS) Educational Partner of the Year, and received two CCPS Galaxy of Stars awards.