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Lightning Foundation Grant Spotlight: Connected By 25

by Erin Chenderlin / Tampa Bay Lightning

On April 23, the Lightning Foundation awarded grants to 16 local organizations totaling $120,500 at the Community Awards and Donor Recognition Reception. Grant applicants were asked to detail their organizations and give a proposed program or project, along with a description of how it qualifies under the Lightning Foundation's funding guidelines. The Foundation's Board of Directors selected the 16 organizations. is profiling each of the organizations and the grant they received. Check back daily for a new organization and see how the Lightning Foundation is truly fulfilling its mission to make Tampa Bay a better place to live, work and play.

Connected By 25

When it comes to getting a child back on the right path in life, nothing is more beneficial than an education. Giving foster children that education is the mission of Hillsborough County's Connected by 25 program. Helping fund that education has become a mission of the Lightning Foundation.

For the third consecutive year, Connected by 25 received a grant from the Lightning Foundation to help pay for an education specialist to help Hillsborough County foster care youth.

The grant will go toward Cby25's "Connection with Education" program. The program works to assist its students with individualized instruction and education services in order to increase their educational abilities in reading, math and language.

The education specialist assists with the foster care youth who currently have language arts or math skills below the sixth grade level.

"That [grant] helps support our on-site, certified school instructor, our teacher," said Diane Zambito, Executive Director of Connected by 25. "Without this grant, we would not have our teacher for this program."

Zambito said Cby25 works with older foster care youth, aged 16 to 25, who have fallen far behind in school. Many have reading levels no higher than first or second grade. The education specialist works with them until they can get their reading and math levels up to at least the sixth grade level, where they can then transfer into an adult education program or stay with Cby25 and work toward their GED.

"All the kids will tell you that it's the teacher made that difference," Zambito said.

Cby25 addresses the unique challenges faced by youth who are aging out of the foster care system. It is their mission to generate community and state support to expand and develop services to help youth who are aging out of the foster care system.

"The kids, they want to be here," Zambito said. "No one's assigned here – you have to apply to be here. These are kids that want it; they've just never had an avenue to achieve it before."

It seems the Lightning Foundation is helping to pave the way for success.

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