United Way key to Mid-Ohio Valley educational programs

PARKERSBURG – The United Way Alliance of the Mid-Ohio Valley works to benefit the community in a variety of ways, one of the most important being through education.

“We believe a quality education is essential to obtaining and keeping a job with a livable wage and health benefits. Our education goals include: promoting readiness to learn programs, focusing on Pre-K through third-grade students primarily; supporting school success and funding quality after-school programming; and encouraging positive youth development through creative programming that engages our young people to spend their time wisely,” said UWAMOV executive director Andrea Shirey.

The United Way provides that support both directly and through funding and support for other agencies and programs in the Mid-Ohio Valley.

Every year, UWAMOV distributes 2,000 backpacks in its 10-county footprint. This year, United Way will also include an age appropriate book and resources where children and families can find books to borrow or purchase at low cost in their communities, Shirey said.

“We’re also undertaking a project to make more ‘little free libraries’ available in all of our communities. These ‘take a book, leave a book’ resources are invaluable and a simply way to increase access to books, even when transportation is a barrier. Our goal is to place 12 little free libraries in the next 12 months,” she said.

The UWAMOV is also actively working with seven West Virginia counties to promote the Imagination Library program which provides one book per month from birth to age 5 to any family who registers for no charge. To register a child for Imagination Library, contact the United Way office at 304-580-0570 and they will be connected to the appropriate resource in their county.

A variety of programs around the Mid-Ohio Valley also receive support from the United Way which goes to help education-related programs aimed at helping children with learning, reading and other skills.

One example is the Foster Grandparent Program offered through the Mid-Ohio Valley Regional Council.

Program director Janet Somerville said the Foster Grandparent Program was started nationally in 1965 and the MOVRC has been the local sponsoring agent since 1984.

The program is for volunteers 55 years or older who meet income guidelines set by the Corporation for National Community Service, undergo background checks and go through annual physicals. After 40 hours of in-service training, they are placed in schools, Head Start programs and day cares.

The Foster Grandparent spend 20-40 hours each week working with children up through second grade in a variety of ways. They offer tutoring, mentoring and other types of support and assistance.

“It’s the basics, where the children really need the extra one-on-one,” Somerville said.

The children aren’t the only ones who benefit from the program, Somerville said. It also helps the foster grandparents by helping them remain active and connected.

“It gives them a reason to get up, to stay healthy and active. It gives them something to look forward to,” Somerville said, adding the local program serves 115 foster grandparents in 18 counties.

The Foster Grandparent Program receives a federal grant from the Corporation for National Community Service for $510,000. The local program is required to provide a 10 percent matching grant and that $51,000 comes from funding and grants from local government, local organizations and others, including United Way, Somerville said.

None of that local match funding is used for administrative costs, Somerville said. It goes to help with meals and transportation costs for the foster grandparents, recognition of the foster grandparent volunteers and other costs.

Another example of United Way’s support for local education is the funding it provides for the Summer Reading Program at the Vienna Public Library.

Vienna Library director Brenna Call said summer reading has been part of the Vienna Public Library for years and the program has expanded and changed in recent years as they work to provide more offerings to attract readers of all ages, up through and including adults.

Call said the main focus of the program is to help children maintain their reading levels and interest in reading. There has long been a recognized loss in learning during the summer months, she said.

“They notice in the classroom that there is oftentimes a little bit of a summer slide and they end the school year with higher reading levels than they begin the next year. Research has shown that kids who participate in literacy activities and reading activities in the summertime, their levels are maintained and sometimes they even go up,” Call said.

Cate Weber, the youth services director at the Vienna Library, said the program works to make kids aware of reading as a choice and a fun thing to do, beyond the assigned reading they do during the school year.

“Even if they hate the reading they have to do in school – which some kids do – if we can connect them with some sort of material here that they are really excited about, then they get excited about reading and are more likely to read on their own,” Weber said.

The Vienna Library has been able to bring in new performers and presenters to work with the summer readers over the last couple of years. In a change for this summer, Weber said she has changed the program to be based on hours of reading as opposed to titles read. She believes it is more important to recognize time spent reading over the number of books being read, since those come in many sizes and complexity levels.

Call said United Way support is very important for the summer reading program. The funding covers a large portion of what the library does with the program, allowing more presenters to be brought in and helping buy prizes and incentives for the children they can earn by reading.

Without the United Way support, the Vienna Library would still be doing summer reading activities but not as much as it can now offer.

“They definitely broaden the scope of what is possible for us,” Call said.

“We’re able to provide families with experiences that they wouldn’t otherwise have,” Call said of the United Way’s impact.

Weber said that United Way support also has an impact beyond the summer months and is felt throughout the year at the library. Since the library doesn’t have to hold back as much money for the summer program each year, it can use those funds to do more activities and programs through the rest of the year.

“We’re able to offer a lot of programs throughout the school year and we’re able to develop exciting new things because of the money the United Way provides for us, that we wouldn’t otherwise be able to do because we would have to save a significant portion of our budget just to cover summer,” she said.


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