Yes, a Little Bit Can Mean a Lot

“I remember Deja arriving home so excited every week proclaiming ‘these people came again,’” says Jessica Johnson-Boykin. “These people” turned out to be The Little Bit Foundation, who left an indelible impression on the then preschooler at Peabody Elementary, according to mom Johnson-Boykin. “First it was a pencil and colorful bookmark, then books, then a coat and new shoes for the winter; every time, it was a wonder to her.” (Above: Johnson-Boykin is pictured with Little Bit CEO Miranda Walker Jones holding an image of Deja on the cover of a Little Bit brochure from years ago.)

The books Deja was able to pick out from Little Bit and practice with had the greatest impact, she says. “She had phonetic awareness at an early age, and today as a third grader, she is an avid reader. I strongly believe the books she had in front of her – and the interest people outside of her family had in her – nurtured her creativity and love for words.”

When COVID hit, Johnson-Boykin says Deja was selected to help “teach” the class during virtual learning. She has tested in the 94th percentile for ELA (English Language Arts) and Math, is a talented artist and dancer, and recently submitted a book she wrote to the Young Authors in Illinois Contest, in which she tells the story of residents cleaning up pollution in their community. The family eventually moved from St. Louis to the Metro East, but Little Bit was always a beloved memory. And then…

“Last year, I learned that Little Bit would be entering East St. Louis School District, and I couldn’t believe it! I was thrilled,” says Johnson-Boykin, who serves as Mental Health Specialist for the district. “I know from my work that we do better when we feel better, and having a community partner that is available to support students in feeling better about themselves is so valuable.”

Johnson-Boykins manages the Project Aware grant for the district, working with students and staff on substance abuse, mental health literacy, identifying needs, finding resources, and making referrals. She believes that collaborating with service partners sends a signal to the school community. “All of these efforts show their commitment to supporting the whole child.”