Pulaski County United Way partners on literacy program

As this school year has come to a close, local organizations in Southwest Virginia are making investments now to ensure that the 2018-2019 academic year will be as successful as it can be for Pulaski County students. A new program available this summer through a collaboration between the United Way of Southwest Virginia and Pulaski County United Way aims to support literacy and overcome the tendency for students to lose some of the achievements they made during the school year, known as the summer slide.

Pulaski County United Way was invited by the United Way of Southwest Virginia to partner in an initiative supporting the Campaign for Grade-Level Reading. This is a national campaign joining foundations, nonprofits, business leaders and government agencies who are working to ensure that more children succeed in school. It focuses on an important predictor of graduation and success: helping children get on grade-level reading by the third grade.

In support of this initiative, the United Way of Southwest Virginia obtained a donation of books for preschool through high school students from The Soho Center. In addition to making these books available to children in their own service region, the United Way of Southwest Virginia offered books to Pulaski County United Way for distribution to Pulaski County students.

A total of 5,000 books were donated for use in Pulaski County. Several local organizations who work with county students over the summer will be distributing the books. These include the Pulaski County Library System, Pulaski County YMCA, Pulaski County Department of Social Services, Pulaski County Youth Center, Beans and Rice, Big Brothers/Big Sisters, Grandparents Raising Grandkids, the Randolph Park Summer Camp, and Family Preservation Services. In addition, books will be distributed by Pulaski County Hospital and the New River Valley Regional Jail.

“This was truly a joint effort by many people and many organizations, all giving with one goal in mind: to help students realize their full potential and find academic success,” Susan Dalrymple, Executive Director of Pulaski County United Way, said.

“When we drove to Abingdon and Bristol to pick up the books, I saw how much people really care about impacting the next generation,” she elaborated. “It began with a vision by Travis Staton, President and CEO of the United Way of Southwest Virginia. He wrote the grant that made all this possible. Two industries in Abingdon and Bristol stored the books until they could be picked up for distribution. Volunteers stepped up in those areas to load books, and volunteers in Pulaski County helped unload them. Virginia Tech allowed my husband, Tim, to be off from work so we could take his truck and pick the books up. It was a good feeling!”

Anthony Akers, Assistant County Administrator for Pulaski County, helped unload books and will see their use through the Randolph Park Summer Camp. “The generous donation of books will dramatically enhance our Splash Into Summer Reading Program,” Akers said. The Randolph Park Summer Camp includes educational activities like the reading program to keep children school-ready for the fall.

Sally Warburton, Director of the Pulaski County Library System, is also distributing books this summer. “Putting books into the hands of children is a great service at this time of year,” Warburton says. She understands the importance of encouraging literacy and combating the summer slide in students, and oversees programs designed to meet student educational needs.

Dalrymple explained the connection between literacy, student success and Pulaski County United Way. “Along with two other building blocks of success, financial stability and health, United Way focuses on increasing educational opportunities and resources. Summer is prime time to focus on providing educational resources.”

Although graduation and career success is increased by grade-level reading at the third grade, nationwide more than 80 percent of low-income children miss this milestone. Statistics show that 61% of low-income families do not have age-appropriate books in their homes. Children can lose up to three months of reading comprehension skills over the summer, especially if they do not have access to books.

The United Way of Southwest Virginia chose to participate in the Campaign for Grade-Level Reading to address the educational needs in their own region. They chose to increase that impact by including resources for children in neighboring counties. The donation made by The Soho Center has had even greater effects than first anticipated.

“Making free books available throughout our community to all children is one way that we can help not only impact student success today but also invest in successful futures,” Dalrymple said. “We are appreciative of the United Way of Southwest Virginia for sharing with us and are thankful for of all the individuals and organizations both here and in Abingdon and Bristol who were willing to take a hands on-approach to supporting the education of our children.”

Pictured: (L-R) Susan and Tim Dalrymple and volunteers from the United Way of Southwest Virginia.

Submitted by the Pulaski County United Way