The John and Janice Wyatt Foundation has a new director of programs in the person of Charlene Jones. In that role, she will work with partners to increase access to and improve the quality of early childhood education and out-of-school time services. Additionally she will develop and monitor strategies around school readiness and the successful achievement of attendance requirements. Perhaps most importantly, she will manage and lead Dorchester County’s Campaign for Grade-Level Reading.
“Through the course of my entire life, I cannot remember a time when my parents were not taking care of or helping someone,” said Jones. “However, early on they taught me and my siblings that the two most vulnerable groups of people in the world were the elderly and children because they were the two groups of people who, at that time, didn’t have a voice in this world.”
She learned how to advocate for herself and other young people. Her first organized experience with that was a “summer school” she created for her sister and her friends when they were in second grade and Charlene was in fifth. This school featured reading, math, spelling tests, lunch time, and field trips. All the parents were supportive and would sign handwritten permission slips for field trips around the neighborhood.
“My sister and I have spoken about this over the years, “said Jones, “and we are still amazed and laugh often.”
“long with my siblings, friends and my mom, we created a marching unit called Showdown,” which included members of all ages. Charlene’s role was choreographing routines, but she also helped plan fundraisers, secure transportation, and schedule practices. Showdown won several first-place competition trophies.
Jones’s family left the Eastern Shore when she was in high school, though she returned for graduation. Then it was off to Massachusetts, where her father was stationed in the military. At age 20, she was hired by Northern Educational Services, Inc, as the program advisor for the UNITY Afterschool program, which provided academic assistance, recreation, prevention, and summer programming for youths. She also served as youth advisor for the Protect Teen Health program, in which teens were educated and trained to bring awareness about HIV/AIDS to their peers. She remained with NES for nine years. Along the way, she earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in Human Services and a Master’s in Human Service – Marriage and Family Therapy.
After moving back to Maryland, Jones worked for the Dorchester County Family Support Early Head Start program as a family advocate. She was the service coordinator for the Dorchester County Public Schools’ Judy Center and the executive director at New Beginnings Youth and Family Services. These positions required her to work with community sectors, coalitions, youth-serving programs, and community members. Each of these had important goals, such as getting children ready for school, improving academics, preventing underage substance abuse, and helping adults access medical treatment. As a result, she has developed personal and working relationships that she intends to maintain while at the John and Janice Wyatt Foundation.
The Campaign for Grade-Level Reading, which Jones will manage at J2W, is a national initiative that brings together foundations, nonprofits, business leaders, government agencies, and communities. Its focus—grade-level reading by the end of third grade—is an important predictor of school success and high school graduation. Jones believes that the process of the collective and the strength of community will allow the CGLR to succeed here. With more than 30 years of experience in human services, she will be a formidable advocate for the young people of Dorchester County.