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Nonprofits: Founding director will retire from Miss Ruby’s Kids

By Jason Lesley
Coastal Observer

Executive director Betsy Marlow says it’s time for her to retire from Miss Ruby’s Kids.

Marlow and her sister, Jo Fortuna, founded the children’s reading program in 2003, based on the Parent-Child Home Reading Program developed 50 years ago.

Former board chairman Teresa Peterson is heading a search committee tasked with having Marlow’s replacement on board by the time she retires at the end of June. The committee is accepting resumes and cover letters through Jan. 10. It has more than 60 applications so far.

“This is my second career,” Marlow said. “It’s time for me to do something different.”

Marlow retired from the Georgetown County School District after teaching at Andrews Elementary, Rosemary Middle, Maryville Elementary and Waccamaw Elementary. She also spent eight years with the Department of Social Services in the midst of her teaching career.

“Betsy’s shoes will be very difficult to fill,” Peterson said. “We are being very selective about our choice.” The search committee is looking for proven fundraising and communication skills along with a commitment to early childhood literacy, she said. A bachelor’s degree is a requirement, but teaching experience is not. “We would love to have someone with a connection to education,” Peterson said. “We are looking for leadership skills.”

Peterson was the first volunteer for Miss Ruby’s Kids. “I read about it, and, as a former educator myself, it just had everything I was looking for in a volunteer position. I was thrilled when I met Betsy and Jo and they could use my services.”

Marlow and Fortuna started the program in 2003 through their church, Holy Cross-Faith Memorial Episcopal in Pawleys Island and wanted to honor the legacy of Miss Ruby Forsythe and the school she ran at Baskervill. “Jo knew I was going to retire,” Marlow said, “and being the big sister that she is and wanting to do something to make an impact in the community where we have deep pockets of poverty and low school performance, we tried to make a difference.”

They started with five families, and within two years they realized the program needed to be a 501(c)(3) tax exempt organization. After six months under the wing of the United Way, it became a stand alone county-wide organization.

“We’ve grown,” Marlow said. “In 2009, we started a mentoring program. I am pleased and excited that we are a strong organization with credibility in the community.” There are 60 families in the parent-child home program, 70 in mentoring and 15 or 20 in a small child-care facility.

Miss Ruby’s Kids distributes nearly 2,000 books and toys a year to families with small children to encourage reading.

“Vocabulary development is so important when children are young,” Marlow said. “What we know about that is children talk as much as you talk to them. If you read to them, the vocabulary in books is different and a lot more varied. We start when children are 2 and go into the homes. We work with parents and support them in their most important job. I’m giving them new skills and strategies to use with their children.”

Marlow was at International Paper Company Tuesday to accept a grant for Miss Ruby’s Kids. It was part of $55,000 distributed to community non-profits by the company. She said the money will be used to help purchase books and toys.

“What we are doing is helping overcome the educational disadvantages of poverty by increasing the verbal interaction between parents and children” she said. “When they are 2 and 3 years old, that verbal interaction is very important. Books carry a message and help teach them skills they need to be successful in school. It helps parents gain skills they need to support children once they enter school. For some parents — not all — school wasn’t a great place for them. There’s a lack of confidence and willingness to even go into the school and meet the teacher and not have it be adversarial.”

Peterson said Marlow was uniquely qualified to start a program like Miss Ruby’s Kids.

“We realize we will not be able to duplicate Betsy,” she said. “We love her and are thrilled that she’s going to get time for herself. I can’t say enough how wonderful it has been with work with her, but we realize that we have to move forward.”

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