Autumn is in the air, so if you’re cruising for a fall outing with the family, look no further than the seventh annual Tucson Classics Car Show on Saturday at St. Gregory College Preparatory School, 3231 N. Craycroft Road.
“This is lucky Number Seven, and we are trying to create a festival sort of feel,” said Chuck Sawyer, chairman of the fundraiser staged annually by the Rotary Club of Tucson.
In addition to providing funding for the Reading Seed Children’s Literacy Program, proceeds from the event this year will fund grants of $25,000 each for Youth on Their Own and the neonatal intensive care unit at St. Joseph’s Hospital.
“It’s all about the kids this year: That is the theme. It is wonderful that Rotary does so much globally with leading the charge to eradicate polio, and here in Tucson has such a history of service to youth as well,” Sawyer said.
Since 2004 the Rotary Club of Tucson has donated about $1 million to Reading Seed, which is dedicated to helping children in kindergarten through third grade learn to read with the help of one-on-one tutors.
“We know through research that a student’s reading level when he or she finishes third grade is a significant indicator for them to graduate from high school, go on to college or have success vocationally and be a fully contributing member of the community. So much can be correlated with that third-grade reading score,” said Tamara McKinney, program director for Reading Seed.
As the result of a recent eight-week volunteer drive, Reading Seed has recruited more than 615 new volunteers. It hopes to have 1,100 reading coaches tutoring more than 3,000 Pima County students by the end of the year.
The program has placed renewed focus on reaching children reading below grade level from economically stressed families in 40 schools located primarily in south and west Tucson, McKinney said.
It also plans to expand services to children in the Flowing Wells School District.
She credits the Rotary Club of Tucson for most of the program’s growth over the past decade.
“They are in many ways responsible for the program existing in its fully functioning form today. They made it possible for us to transform from a small, volunteer-led group into a complete, fully functioning community resource, and we want to emphasize that and thank them for it,” she said.
Homeless local high school students who will be assisted by Youth on Their Own (YOTO) are also grateful for the support of the Rotary Club of Tucson, according to executive director Teresa Baker.
“Kids come into our program throughout the year. We have about 750 kids in the program right now and are running 40 percent over where we were last year at this time.
“We ended last year with 1,200 kids; 300 of those were (high school) seniors, and we had a 96 percent graduation rate as compared to Arizona’s 75 percent overall.
“We can’t predict how many kids will come into the program, but we know there are 4,000 homeless kids in our demographic,” Baker said.
YOTO seeks to help homeless and abandoned students finish high school by providing financial help, basic needs and guidance. Aid of $4.65 a day — up to $140 a month — is based on grades of C or better and school attendance.
The money makes a huge difference to kids struggling to stay in school, Baker said.
“It takes the edge off their poverty. Where there is a will there is a way. Some kids are very driven and know that if they graduate from high school it will make the difference in their lives,” she said.
Since YOTO receives no federal funds, donations from businesses and individuals and contributions such as the grant from the Rotary Club of Tucson are essential to maintaining and expanding the nonprofit’s services as the need continues to grow.
Babies who need a helping hand have not been overlooked either: The grant to St. Joseph’s Hospital Neonatal Intensive Care Unit will pay for an oscillating ventilator for premature babies.
“It will impact 50 to 70 kids a year, and my understanding is that it will save these babies’ lives or significantly decrease their risk of lifelong lung issues,” Sawyer said.
Sawyer is proud to be one of more than 220 active Rotarians who harness the talent, skill and team effort required to stage a one-day event that raises more than $100,000 to funnel back into local charities.
“We get to do it all through this cool car show,” he said. “If you are looking for something to do before the UA football game at 7 p.m., come spend a couple hours with us at the car show.”