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Volunteer News
Volunteers needed for ReadingPals
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United Way Suncoast is looking for volunteers to serve as part of a statewide initiative to help young children learn to read at grade level. ReadingPals is a program focused on increasing the number of students who are reading at grade level by the end of third grade.

United Way will connect volunteers to a particular site based on their preferred location schedule. Volunteers will undergo a background screening and receive training in the curriculum selected for their region prior to being assigned a reading pal. Volunteers will continue to work with children in ReadingPals throughout 2013.

Those interested in becoming ReadingPals volunteers should contact United Way Suncoast. Interested prospective volunteers should contact Nicole Brown, Program Manager, ReadingPals, by calling 813-274-0998 or emailing her at nbrown@uwsuncoast.org. She encourages volunteers to become a part of the program.

“Great readers eventually become great leaders,” said Brown, in a press release.

Volunteers will commit to reading for at least an hour per week throughout the school year with one, two or three children. The program uses proven techniques to meet the needs of each community. Volunteers will read a book out loud, guiding children through literacy activities and general conversations about the book. The program also begins to build home libraries for participating children by sending books home throughout the school year.

Children who read at grade level by the fourth grade are four times more likely to graduate from high school. Graduates earn more throughout their lifetime, make better choices, use fewer social services and statistically are more likely to stay out of trouble.

“United Way Suncoast is working with local school districts, early learning coalitions, children’s services councils and other children’s organizations to help students from prekindergarten to third grade,” said Diana Baker, president and CEO of United Way Suncoast. “Through Carol and Barney Barnett’s generosity, we will be able to recruit hundreds of local adult volunteers and launch the program in some of the most challenged public schools and neighborhoods.”

In August, Gov. Rick Scott and First Lady Ann Scott joined former Miami Herald Publisher Dave Lawrence, chair of The Children’s Movement of Florida, and Carol Barnett, president of Publix Super Markets Charities, to launch ReadingPals early literacy initiative. Thanks to the Barnett’s generosity, 10 United Ways across Florida will share $3 million over three years to achieve the goal of helping children read on grade level by third grade.

“We so strongly believe that the future of our state rests in the hands and minds of our youngest that we have personally contributed to the launching of Reading Pals – an early literacy initiative in 10 Florida regions. Our goal is to ensure that more children are reading at grade level by the end of third grade,” said ReadingPals sponsor and proponent of early learning, Barnett said.

United Way is extremely excited to embark on this new journey toward academic excellence and help people throughout the community.

“Today’s third graders are tomorrow’s doctors, engineers, teachers and innovators – tomorrow’s job creators,” said Scott.

“What Carol and Barney Barnett are making possible will make such a difference in the future of our state, and Ann and I look forward to working with them on this great initiative,” Scott said.

“We are a blessed family, and feel obliged to make sure we give back a full measure to our community and country,” said Barnett, who is also vice chair of The Children’s Movement. “There’s no greater investment we could make in the future of Florida.”

“The early years when 90 percent of brain growth occurs are crucial to growing children who become eager students and contributing adults,” said David Lawrence Jr., chair of The Children’s Movement of Florida. “Learning to read by third grade is crucial, and reading to learn must become the standard by no later than fourth grade. The very future of our state and country depend on this.”

The Florida Department of Education recently released the statewide 2012 third-grade FCAT 2.0 reading scores, and 44 percent – 89,491 students – were found to be reading below grade level. These children, who struggle with reading at a young age, will be four times more likely to drop out of high school than their peers reading at grade level.

Ten United Ways across the state have received ReadingPals grants. Locally, this includes United Way of Central Florida (Polk and Highlands counties), United Way of Manatee County, and United Way Suncoast (DeSoto, Hillsborough, Pinellas, and Sarasota counties).

United Way Suncoast has made a commitment to work with children and youth to help them achieve their full potential in life by focusing programs on early childhood learning. This is part of their three-part community impact agenda that includes financial stability for families and health initiatives. Learn more about United Way Suncoast at www.UnitedWaySuncoast.org.
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