This week, we are going to focus on childhood literacy, and our United Way’s efforts to improve early literacy programs in southern West Virginia. We invest significant funds and staff time into improving the climate of childhood literacy in the 7 counties that we serve.
For some background information, check out this video.
One of the most shocking statistics in this video is that children who do not reach a 3rd grade reading level by 3rd grade are THIRTEEN TIMES more likely to drop out of high school. Our efforts to improve elementary reading skills aim to improve that statistic.
One way that we work to improve the literacy skills of children in our area is through a 2-school Reading Program called “United Way Reading Days”. We partner with 2 elementary schools in Raleigh County, Cranberry-Prosperity Elementary and Mabscott. We provide monthly visits by volunteer readers. These readers are vetted United Way volunteers, who are able to deliver a new book to each child in our reading program. Over the course of the school year, our volunteers work through the book and discuss moral dilemmas that the characters face. All of our books are chosen specifically because they include opportunities for character education. We place 2 volunteers in each grade level from 2nd grade to 5th grade. We hope that placing a positive, caring adult in front of children, showing them that reading can be enjoyable, interesting, and fun! This school year, we served 292 children through this program. All of them received a snack each month during their United Way reading time, and will be going home with a book all their own at the end of the school year.
We would like to recognize our 2018-2019 Reading Program volunteers. Thank you so much to these individuals for their commitment to improving literacy in our community: Sharon Lilly, Lydia Tankersly, Ronn Robinson, Beth Jarrell, Stacy Morton, Gordon Ross, Jonathon Gross, Malinda Thacker, Debbie Gray, Karen Harvey, and Mary-Kate Bostick. Without dedicated volunteers, our programs just wouldn’t work! We are very grateful for these folks’ dedication!
In addition to our two Reading Programs in Raleigh County, we partner with Read Aloud West Virginia, a statewide organization with the mission of fostering a lifelong love of reading in West Virginia’s youth. Partnering with Read Aloud WV allows us to expand our volunteer reader presence across our 7 counties without putting a large stress on staff to coordinate programs in 7 counties. We have helped to place several readers in Read Aloud partner schools and hope to continue to do so next Fall when school starts back up again. Our Community Impact Coordinator, Christina, sits on the Board of Read Aloud WV chapters in Raleigh, Fayette, and Mercer counties, which has given us opportunities to assist them in their programs by using our assets in conjunction with theirs, truly embodying our “united” approach to transforming our community for good.
One way that we have been able to support Read Aloud West Virginia is by providing mini-grants to two counties (Fayette and Mercer) to implement Snuggle and Read programs. For Snuggle and Read, volunteers visit preschools, daycares, and HeadStart programs in order to jumpstart reading habits with young children and their parents. With these two mini grants, Read Aloud WV was able to serve over 450 families with the Snuggle and Read program. These young children also received a book, and parents received education about reading to their babies/toddlers AND about safe sleep habits.
The beauty of supporting the United Way is that by supporting us, you support a variety of programs across our community. We believe that education is essential to ending the cycle of poverty in southern West Virginia. Through programs like these, that expose children to books and literature early on, we hope to improve the climate for education in our state, even if it is one classroom at a time.
By Christina Cowley, CIC (Community Impact Coordinator)