United Way shifting focus to early childhood education

Local News

ERIE, Pa – Changes ahead for the United Way of Erie County. The organization is cutting funds to some non-profits and instead, sharpening their focus to student success from an early age, and family stability. 

The local United Way is making a commitment to join “The National Campaign for Grade Level Reading”. That program was explained to more than 300 United Way supporters during this year’s Self-Sufficiency Summit at the Bayfront Convention Center. 

The United Way explains that they’re evolving from their roots as a fundraising organization, to a critical community impact organization. 

Studies show that 75% of third graders are not reading proficiently. 

Becky Miles-Polka, a Senior Consultant for the “National Campaign for Grade-Level Reading”, explains that, “Starting in fourth grade, [students] need those reading skills to be able to learn more complex content.” This is the reason why third grade reading proficiency is looked at closely by schools. 

By implementing the program, “The National Campaign for Grade-Level Reading”, the United Way is hoping for that statistic to change drastically. Through the new model, dozens of partners within the community will be working methodically to get better results for the children. The United Way will be serving as the backbone organization. 

“We will take the responsibility of making sure that we are making all of the partners coming together, moving the work forward,” says Laurie Root, the Senior Vice President of The United Way of Erie County. 

Miles-Polka says, “Strategies [used within the program] are determined locally. We have kind of a recipe and the key ingredients, but it has to work within the context as of what’s best for Erie County.” 

One local strategy that’s successful and will continue is the Imagination Library, created five years ago. In an effort to raise funds and awareness for the Imagination Library program, the United Way kicked off a new campaign today, called “Keep the Pages Turning”. 

“It costs $30 per child, which is extraordinarily reasonable, to get 12 books for that $30 a year,” explains Root, “but you multiply that by 10,000 children that are receiving the books in Erie County, it’s not a cheap date for the community.” 

Fortunately for The United Way, guests of the Summit were lining up to make their $30 contribution after the presentation. 

The “Keep the Pages Turning” fundraising campaign wraps up in June, for more information: 

https://www.unitedwayerie.org/

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