United Way of Miami-Dade is recruiting 300 volunteers to become readers at more than 30 early learning centers throughout Miami-Dade County as part of its ReadingPals program. A $116,000 private grant for each of the next three years from Carol Jenkins Barnett, chairman and president of Publix Super Markets Charities, and Barney Barnett, Publix vice chairman, is helping United Way expand its current volunteer reader program, to engage more volunteers and help more young children improve their literacy skills.
“We are so grateful for the extraordinary leadership and generosity of Carol and Barney Barnett. They are passionate, caring leaders who are committed to helping the children of Florida achieve success in school and in life,” Harve A. Mogul, president and CEO, United Way of Miami-Dade, said. “They understand the importance of quality early education and that by investing in our children, they are investing in the future of Florida and our nation.”
United Way of Miami-Dade is one of 10 United Ways in Florida to receive a grant from the Barnetts who launched this three-year initiative to connect volunteers with young children to help them on the road to literacy. Research shows that children who are reading on grade level by 4th grade have a better chance of graduating from high school. In Florida, more than one-third of 3rd graders in public school cannot read at minimum levels of proficiency.
“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 “ReadingPals” — an early literacy initiative in ten Florida regions. Our goal is to ensure that more children are reading at grade level by the end of third grade,” Carol Barnett said.
United Way of Miami-Dade ReadingPals’ volunteers will commit to reading to students once a week for 24 weeks, starting the week of Oct. 15. They will be matched with pairs of children to help build vocabulary and other literacy skills by reading high quality books and engaging them in interactive learning. The program will offer trainings for participating teachers and volunteers and will utilize the VPK assessment to identify intentional interventions for children.
The ReadingPals program builds on United Way of Miami-Dade’s volunteer reader program, launched last September. In its first year, more than 680 young children benefitted from the efforts of 71 volunteers who invested one hour a week in reading at early learning centers. Already, 102 volunteers and 38 early learning centers throughout Miami-Dade have signed on as part of United Way of Miami-Dade’s ReadingPals program.
“As a volunteer reader, I can tell you what a rewarding experience it is to see a child’s eyes light up by simply reading them a book and watching them learn throughout the program,” Kathleen Woods-Richardson, director, Miami-Dade County Public Works and Solid Waste Management Department, said. “It is important that we encourage our community to volunteer and participate in ReadingPals so that we can continue to change lives and better the youth of our community.”
Joining United Way in this ReadingPals initiative are local partners: The Children’s Movement of Florida, Miami-Dade County Public Schools, The Children’s Trust and the Early Learning Coalition.