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Day of Action: Spotlight on Early Literacy

Each year on and around June 21, communities around the world come together to harness the volunteer spirit and improve the conditions in which they live.

This year, thousands of people in more than 240 communities—from Macon, Georgia to Mumbai, India—committed their time and their passion to creating long-lasting solutions that benefit everyone on this year’s Day of Action.

Each United Way focuses on the particular aspirations and challenges of the community they serve. And yet there are many issues that transcend the borders between towns, cities or even nations—issues like early literacy, a major focus for many communities on Day of Action.

United Way of Rhode Island

In Rhode Island, 100 volunteers sorted 22,460 books for an annual Children’s Book Drive. Since the statewide initiative began in 2012, 64,000 books in total have been distributed to Rhode Island children.

United Way of Rhode Island’s commitment to education is year-round.

For example, the Hasbro Summer Learning Initiative (a partnership between the toy company Hasbro and United Way Rhode Island) is dedicated to preventing summer slide, and results from their second year showed 27 percent of children in the initiative improved their math skills and 32 percent improved their literacy skills.

United Way of Racine County

United Way of Racine County mobilized 100 volunteers to create 500 literacy kits, full of fun learning activities and classic books such as There Was an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly and One Duck Stuck (what, no love for Good Night Moon?).

Racine Unified School District’s first, second and third grade summer school students will soon be enjoying these literacy kits, as will Head Start, 4K, kindergarten and first grade students in Burlington.

I got involved with the Day of Action to stay active with United Way. I think the literacy kits will show kids that not only do their parents or guardians care about their education, but people they don't even know are interested. The arts and crafts were fun and took me back to my childhood.

Jason Stanic, Modine Manufacturing

As in Rhode Island, Racine County’s Day of Action represents only a fraction of the great education work they’re doing year-round.

In 2013, three Born Learning Trails were installed in Racine County parks to provide parents and children with fun and interactive early learning opportunities, and 7,106 one-on-one Schools of Hope tutoring sessions were held to help young students become more confident, capable readers.

Shanghai Charity Foundation

Nearly 7,000 miles from Racine, Wisconsin, volunteers in Shanghai, China also marked their Day of Action by promoting early literacy.

Employees from Eaton China volunteered to read to children, and the company presented United Way Worldwide with a check for RMB100k Yuan ($16,000 USD) to support an early education initiative called Sprout.

The Sprout initiative is the first joint effort between United Way and the Shanghai Charity Foundation, and its ultimate goal is to improve early learning opportunities for 30,000 migrant children living in Shanghai.

United Way of Greater Chattanooga

A Read-a-Palooza organized by United Way of Greater Chattanooga turned Day of Action into a fun learning experience for children and their parents. There were carnival games with prizes, an inflatable play area and book-related literacy activities.

By now it probably comes as no surprise that United Way of Greater Chattanooga’s commitment to early literacy did not end on the morning of June 22nd.

Among their many year-round efforts to promote reading proficiency is the Chattanooga Literacy initiative, which utilizes an innovative reading software program to help kids improve their skills. After just one month of using Lexia, 22 percent more students between kindergarten and 5th grade were reading at or above grade level.

United Ways of Idaho

In Idaho, all seven local United Ways came together to organize their first-ever book drive June 15-19.  The goal at United Way of Southeastern Idaho alone was to raise 10,000 books.

United Way of Idaho Holds Childrens' Book Drive

Idaho’s First Lady, Lori Otter, teamed up with United Way of Treasure Valley to turn her office into a summer book drop-off site. As an incentive, state employees making book donations at her office can pick up a signed copy of their choice of one of her “Ida” books in exchange for their contribution. The agency with the largest drop-off at the end of summer will receive a batch of her famous brownies.

“Reading during the summer months is critical for our children,” Otter said in a statement. “During summer months, lower socioeconomic students can regress by more than two thirds in reading achievement, while their middle-class peers are able to make slight gains. The United Way Book Drive is geared toward helping end this ‘summer learning loss’ here in Idaho.”

Staples Partners with United Way

United Way and Staples are working together in eleven cities in the U.S. and Canada to creating more than 1,200 “literacy kits” to help boost early grade level reading.

With the contents provided by Staples, volunteers assemble and decorate each kit to include two books, a coloring book and crayons, a cinch bag to use on future trips to the library, as well as materials with tips and information for how children can access learning resources over the summer. United Way also provides ideas and templates for volunteers to create props and include activity ideas to accompany the literacy kits. And, just to help get those creative juices flowing, United Way and Staples will recognize the city that produces the most creative kit.

United Ways working with Staples on this project include: United Way of Massachusetts Bay and Merrimack ValleyHeart of Florida United WayUnited Way of Greater Kansas CityUnited Way of Greater St. LouisUnited Way of Lake CountyUnited Way of King CountyUnited Way of SiouxlandUnited Way of the MidlandsUnited Way HalifaxUnited Way Regina and United Way Lower Mainland.

Why focus on Literacy?

Expanding early literacy is essential if we want to give the next generation a strong start on the road to long-term success. Research tells us children who are able to read at grade level by the end of 3rd grade are significantly more likely to graduate from high school.

Courtesy of the Annie E. Casey Foundation

That’s right—nearly 80 percent of students above grade level in 3rd grade go on to graduate high school within five years. No wonder so many communities chose to devote this year’s Day of Action to promoting early literacy.

It’s going to take more than a day, a week or a month to accomplish our goal of a world full of opportunity.

For all of the more than 240 communities that participated, Day of Action is a window into that much broader mission—a mission that focuses not just on education, but also financial stability and health, because all three are essential building blocks for a better life and a stronger community.

That’s what it takes to make a difference in the lives of people all around the world. That’s what it means to LIVE UNITED.

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