United Way of Southwest Minnesota manages several internal programs that are aimed at ensuring children enter school developmentally on track in literacy skills, as well as in social, emotional and cognitive skills. We also want to ensure students, K-12, have the tools needed to succeed and thrive. Several of the programs administered by United Way of Southwest Minnesota are highlighted below.
The following school readiness and literacy programs are available to young children and their families in Lyon, Lincoln, Murray, Yellow Medicine and portions of Cottonwood, Lac qui Parle, Nobles and Redwood counties. Each program is available free of charge because the cost of each of these programs is covered by donations to United Way of Southwest Minnesota, through partnerships with other organizations and/or grant funding.
- Sponsorship of the Dolly Parton Imagination Library Program - Imagination Library book program is for children (ages birth – 5 years of age) who live in our service area. Every child who is enrolled receives an age and developmentally appropriate book in the mail each month. Children are able to gain valuable school readiness skills each time an adult in their life takes time to read books to them. Since we began sponsoring the program in 2005, more than 5,000 local children have graduated from the program, and more than 344,000 books have been delivered to homes throughout our service area. At this time, more than 2,725 local children receive a book delivered to their home on a monthly basis.
- Stuff the Bus - In 2016, we provided more than 55,000 school supplies to approximately 4,100 students attending 25 area schools. We engaged dozens of volunteers to collect, sort, pack and distribute supplies and backpacks to elementary, middle and high school students throughout our service area. Because of this effort, more children were able to enter school with the basic tools needed to learn and be successful, thereby allowing them to focus on their academic goals.
- Wild About Kindergarten School Readiness Kits are distributed to encourage children and their parents/guardians to work on school readiness skills over the spring and summer in preparation for kindergarten in the fall. Bags are provided to every child who attends Kindergarten Round-Up in all schools in our service area. Each kit includes a book, activity booklet, whiteboard and marker, crayons, scissor, glue stick, notepad, modeling clay, toothbrush, practice worksheets for children and parent/guardian resources.
- Little Red Bookshelf is an early literacy effort that places red bookshelves at key locations where children and families often visit. Take. Read. Share. Children can enjoy the books where they are and/or take a book home to use. The program aims to foster a love of reading and provide access to books for all children throughout our service area. We currently sponsor 39 shelves throughout southwest Minnesota.
Student Emergency Fund Grants totaling over $9,000 was distributed in August 2017 to twenty-one local schools that applied for funds. These funds are to be used at the districts’ discretion to support their neediest students. During the 2016-17 school year funds were used for items such as: activity/field trip/band fees, preschool tuition for homeless students, lice kits, bus tokens, space heater for family, underwear, clothing, socks & shoes, lunch assistance, hygiene items, emergency food support, eyeglasses and vision exams, winter apparel, specialized school supplies, etc.
Summer Wild About Reading is a 45 minute reading and active learning program held at area parks in June and July each summers. The events feature learning activities, music and literacy skill building. In 2017, these events were offered at sixteen parks for children and/or daycares to participate.
Jumpstart's Read for the Record® is an annual reading celebration that highlights the need for quality early education in America by mobilizing adults and children to set a record for the largest shared reading experience. In October, 2017, we organized 140 volunteers for this one day literacy event to be read the book “Quackers” in 149 classrooms in twenty schools; nine libraries; fourteen childcare centers/pre-schools/headstarts; and one radio station throughout our service area. A copy of the book was donated to each classroom for continued use.
1000 Books Before Kindergarten – We work in partnership with all sixteen libraries in our service area to offer this program to local families. This effort encourages parents to read aloud at least 1,000 books with their child(ren) before they enter kindergarten in order to help build early literacy/vocabulary skills. Each library offers incentives along the way and a graduation celebration upon completion.
Born Learning Trails - Born Learning Trails are designed to help parents, caregivers and communities support early learning by helping boost children’s language and literacy skills – and encouraging families to get active. They are a great way to elevate awareness of early childhood education, encourage outdoor play and promote active learning in nature. Born Learning Trails include ten fun, activity-based learning stations. We have installed permanent trails in Cottonwood, Currie, Fulda, Granite Falls, Hendricks. Lake Wilson, Balaton and Walnut Grove, with plans to install a bi-lingual trail in Marshasll in the near future. We also have a portable version of the Trail which can be used at both indoor and outdoor events throughout the year.