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The CHILD ADVOCATE



Sean Boyle, executive director of the Children’s Services Council of St. Lucie County

Sean Boyle, executive director of the Children’s Services Council of St. Lucie County, looks for children’s books to replenish some of the council’s Little Libraries where books are provided to children in the community. ANTHONY INSWASTY

BY PATTIE DURHAM

When Sean Boyle and his wife, Jacque, took a leap of faith and moved to South Florida from snowy Chicago in 1997, he had no idea where he would end up working. His wife had been promised a job with her stepfather’s business, but his options were left to the want ads. Boyle answered an ad for a grant writer and training specialist with the Children’s Services Council of St. Lucie County and was hired.

At first, he didn’t think he was going to stay for long, but his boss, Kathy Basile, a longtime St. Lucie County educator, asked him what he would like to do. She noted that the council needed a website and a training calendar. So, Boyle went to work on those items, which helped him to grow with the job. He said he learned quite a bit from Basile, who worked tirelessly to improve the lives of the county’s children. When Basile became ill, he began filling in as the acting director. Boyle was named executive director in 2009, shortly after the death of Basile.

Much about the CSC has changed in the 20 years Boyle has been there, including an increase in the staff since its inception in 1990. Boyle manages a staff of nine employees, eight of whom are full time. Described as an independent Children’s Services Council, which means it has its own governing board, it provides funds to agencies working to benefit children. There are eight independent councils in Florida and another eight or nine that are governed by their county commissioners.

As executive director, Boyle oversees the distribution of an annual $8.5 million budget that comes from ad valorum revenue assessed in the county and other matching funds from private foundations and state dollars.

“We try to maximize our funding within our program to draw down additional resources for our community,” Boyle said.

Funding goes to after-school programs as well as agencies such as Early Learning Coalition and Tykes to Teens that deal with children’s health and welfare. Many of the programs depend on parent participation and community support to give the children the tools to succeed.

“You need to connect with that child to increase their likelihood of success,” Boyle said. “Most of our agencies would love volunteers. People can look at our program guide to see if there is an area in which they might like to volunteer.”

Presently, one focus is on advancing reading skills. The council spearheads a local grade-level reading initiative, St. Lucie Reads, that is part of a statewide push to ensure students are reading on grade level by third grade. Much of its promotional effort targets parents, grandparents and other relatives, explaining the importance of reading to young children and, as they enter school, listening to them read every day.

The council helps fund a Big Brothers and Big Sisters after-school reading mentoring program. The program coordinates volunteers who read to children at school for one hour per week in the pre-K through third-grade classes. The council also seeks donations of gently used or new books.

To further the importance of reading, the CSC has set up more than 60 Little Libraries at laundromats, churches and doctors’ waiting rooms – any place where someone can sit and read a book. Statistics show that in middle- to higher-income neighborhoods, there are 13 books or magazines for every child, whereas in poorer areas, there is one book or magazine for every 300 children.

“If they take books home (from the Little Libraries),” Boyle said, “that is OK. We restock them with donated books that we receive.”

The CSC works with the New York Mets to host events designed to get books into the hands of children. In April, the CSC sponsored the Early Learning Coalition’s 12th annual Family Fun Fair. At this year’s event, the St. Lucie County Sheriff’s Department provided a K-9 demonstration and Curious George and the Black Panther were there for photo opportunities. Every Tuesday, the Fort Pierce Police Department sponsors a program for children at First Step Park in Fort Pierce. Once a month CSC staffers set up reading circles for the children who attend.

“We do anything we can to try to get books into the hands of kids,” Boyle said.

A multigenerational Hoosier, Boyle moved to Elkhart, Indiana, after graduation from the Indiana University in Bloomington. It was in Elkhart that he met his wife and began his career in social service. He was 21 years old and took a job with the Indiana Department of Children and Families, working with victims of child abuse and neglect. He worked there for two years before becoming an enrollment counselor for incoming freshmen at National Louis University in Chicago.

Eventually, he began counseling mostly adult graduate students. Boyle liked the work so much, he enrolled in a master’s degree program that focused on adult education. The next stop on his career track was working with an Illinois agency that provided quality assurance checks on foster homes, group homes and therapy programs. Their audits would look to where training for employees was needed.

All of this experience was helpful once Boyle began working at CSC. He said the council has trained about 1,000 people on grant-writing. The CSC is a member of the Roundtable of St. Lucie County, a group of leaders who work together to accomplish system change that results in improved outcomes for youth. Boyle added that the council provides the funding for the the Roundtable’s Kids at Hope program in county schools.

“We have three customers,” Boyle explained, “the children of the families we serve, the programs we fund and the taxpayers of St. Lucie County, as it is their resources we are using to fund these agencies.”

Boyle and his staff are responsible for monitoring the accountability of these programs to ensure they are making wise decisions financially. They also make sure the programs are following their proposals and serving the county’s population.

“We have a great team here,” Boyle said, “and a great board of directors. Everybody has a unique talent and a passion for the children of St. Lucie County.”

Boyle and Ashley Mock, the council’s director of community engagement, host a weekly radio show on children’s issues that airs on 104.5 FM, the Flame. The Flame helps the council partner with the Sunrise Theatre in Fort Pierce each December to stage a show where children from the programs perform. Viewers of the event are asked to bring a book, new or gently used, for donation.

“We always need new books,” Boyle said.

Once a month, the radio show is recorded at WLX-TV, the school system’s TV studio. The upcoming sessions include segments on the summer reading program for children at public libraries and swimming lessons for children.

Over the years, Boyle has received awards for his work. On Law Day, May 1, the Friends of the Rupert J. Smith Law Library recognized his continued commitment to the children and families of St. Lucie County.

And, as his career has come full circle, Boyle, who began his career assisting Indiana’s abused and neglected children, now finds himself working to benefit the lives of St. Lucie County’s children.



SEAN BOYLE

Age: 49
Lives in: Port St. Lucie
Occupation: Executive director, Children’s Services Council of St. Lucie County
Family: Wife, Jacque; son Zane, 18; daughter Leedy, 21
Education: Bachelor of Science in psychology, Indiana University; master’s degree in adult education, National Louis University
Hobbies: Playing basketball, producing a podcast
Who inspires me: “As far as inspiration, I reflect a lot on my past director, Kathy Basile.”
Something most people don’t know about me: “I’m a huge Star Wars fan. My fondest memory of my dad, who has passed, is of him taking me out of school early to see the first film.”