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Tapping in to Next Generation Volunteers and Leaders

Education is the cornerstone of individual and community success. What can we do to improve education in our communities? Pledging to become a volunteer reader, tutor or mentor is one way to help children and youth achieve their potential. Another is to tap into the energy of motivated teenagers and help them understand how to contribute to early grade education.

On June 30 in New York City United Way led some 55 young leaders from around the world in a hands-on service project to benefit United Way of New York City’s early grade reading initiative, ReadNYC. The high schoolers are participating in a 10 day People to People Ambassador Program at Pace University.

This is the second recent service project led by United Way for People to People International (PTPI) and Ambassador Programs. In November, United Way led a group of more than 120 national and international students participating in PTPI’s Global Youth Forum in creating 54 literacy kits at our Alexandria, VA headquarters.

Literacy kits are comprised of a book and a collection of related objects, props and other items designed to make reading interactive and enjoyable for young children. Research has shown that children learn best when they are engaged and having fun. Volunteer-assembled literacy kits, which can help boost early grade level reading, help support United Way’s long-term goal to increase the graduation rate in the U.S. While literacy kits can be used year-round, it is especially important to make them available during the summer months, when reading outside of school can help prevent summer reading loss. More than half of the achievement gap between lower- and higher-income youth can be explained by unequal access to summer learning opportunities.

In New York, the students will observe and practice reading aloud and using a literacy kit for You are a Lion!  And Other Fun Yoga Poses to understand how literacy kits make reading even more fun. Then they will create kits for books like The Penny Pot and Bunny Money that help promote financial literacy and teach children how to use math skills and save and spend money. United Way will lead a similar project for the People to People Ambassador Program at Yale University on July 18.

Reading proficiency by third grade is the most important predictor of high school graduation and career success. Yet every year, more than 80 percent of low-income children miss this crucial milestone. The good news is that the inspiring young leaders participating in People to People programs, and the rest of us, can help solve this problem. Advance the common good. Contact your local United Way to get involved.