Interfaith assault on illiteracy
By WAVENEY ANN MOORE, Times Staff Writer
Published September 12, 2007


When the Tampa Bay Area Muslim Association decided it wanted to join other religious groups working to improve literacy in the Childs Park area, the organization was welcomed with open arms.  

When the Tampa Bay Area Muslim Association decided it wanted to join other religious groups working to improve literacy in the Childs Park area, the organization was welcomed with open arms.  

The program offered by seven churches, the small Muslim group and a mosque, each at its own facility, will officially begin on Oct. 1.  

The Muslim association, meanwhile, is scrambling to finish renovation of the three-bedroom house at 535 35th St. S it bought to host its part of the effort.  

Across the street from two school bus stops, the house is being renovated by volunteers who are replacing the building’s outdated orange and yellow shag carpeting, installing track lighting in the dimly lit living room, and making it accessible to the handicapped.  

Monday, with the Muslim holy month of Ramadan just days away, Abdul Aziz, executive director of the Muslim association’s program, turned to a quote from the Prophet Mohammed to explain his group’s involvement in the literacy program. "The person who is best in the sight of God is the person who is most useful to their community," he said.  

Paul Lackey, executive director of Pinellas County Management Services, the agency that is funding the project with money from the Juvenile Welfare Board, said the goal is to provide literacy programs in areas where children are failing in school and having trouble passing the FCAT.  

Childs Park, whose boundaries are Fifth Avenue S to 18th Avenue S and from 34th Street S to 49th Street S, suffers from both, in addition to crime, drugs and poverty, according to a Juvenile Welfare Board report. The organization decided to turn to religious groups for help in solving Childs Park’s problems. Besides literacy efforts and FCAT preparation, the program will include family support services, mentoring and job placement.  

The Tampa Bay Area Muslim Association has pledged to provide mentors. It also is updating the kitchen at its facility to help teach mothers about nutrition. With the other religious organizations, the group will also offer technology labs, counseling, youth programs and referrals.  

The city of St. Petersburg has provided Weed and Seed grants and other funds for the literacy program. Assistance also is coming from the Junior League of St. Petersburg. A Childs Park agency, Everyone’s Youth United, will administer the program and offer some of its services.  

The Muslim association, whose members come from St. Petersburg, Tampa and Clearwater, says it does not plan to proselytize. "We’re not trying to promote a particular religious view, but we cannot have a holistic approach without a spiritual viewpoint," said Karim Ali, chairman of the organization.  

"It’s going to be based in reality," Aziz said of the program.  

"It’s not going to be something where a child just comes and is babysat. We want to get parents back involved in the social and academic development of their children. We’re going to get young men involved in being fathers. I think we have to get back to common sense behavior."  

<em>Waveney Ann Moore can be reached at </em><a href="mailto:wmoore@sptimes.com"><em>wmoore@sptimes.com</em></a><em> or 727 892-2283.</em>

‘FAST FACTS ‘

‘Childs Park by the numbers’  

62 percent with only a ninth-grade education  

59+ percent – households with children headed by females  

30 median age  

63 percent – employed in blue-collar jobs (most minimum wage)  

40.8 to 50.9 percent – scoring below FCAT reading level 3 in 2006  

Source: City of St. Petersburg

<br />’Religious groups help fight literacy problem’  

Religious groups offering literacy programs in Childs Park  

St. Mark Missionary Baptist Church  

Prayer Tower Church of God in Christ  

Galilee Missionary Baptist Church  

Rock of Jesus Missionary Baptist Church  

Dominion Worship Ministries  

Mount Moriah Missionary Baptist Church  

Bethel Metropolitan Baptist Church  

Tampa Bay Area Muslim Association  

The St. Petersburg Islamic Center

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