Community Initiatives

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 gain valuable school readiness skills each time an adult in their life takes time to read books to them.  United Way of Southwest Minnesota began sponsoring the program in 2005. Since that time, over 5,800 local children have graduated from the program, and over 365,000 books have been delivered to homes throughout our service area.  At this time, over 2,670 local children receive a book delivered to their home on a monthly basis. (Stats as of August, 2018)
  • Stuff the Bus - In 2018, we provided a record 67,003 school supplies to nearly 4,000 students attending 23 area schools. In addition, 1,200 hygiene items were also distributed.  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. Stuff the Bus means that students can create and learn to their full potential without the worry that they don't have the basic tools needed to reach 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.  We distributed 750 kits in 2018.
  • 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 forty shelves in twenty communities throughout southwest Minnesota.
  • Student Emergency Fund Grants have been distributed to local schools for the last 15 years. Each spring all private, public and charter schools in the United Way of Southwest Minnesota service area are invited to apply. More than $134,000 has been distributed through this initiative. In 2018, $9,495 was granted as Student Emergency Funds to help needy students at the following applying schools: Canby Public; Clarkfield Area Charter; Dawson/Boyd Public; E.C.H.O. Charter; Fulda Public; Hendricks Public; Holy Redeemer; Lake Benton Public; Lakeview Public; Lincoln Elementary; Lynd Public; Marshall Public; Minneota Public; Murray County Central; Russell-Tyler-Ruthton; St. Edward School; St. Mary’s School; St. Peter’s School; Tracy Area Public; True Light Christian School; Westbrook-Walnut Grove; and Yellow Medicine East. Funds to be used at the schools’ discretion to support their neediest children.  Funds have been used for:  activity/field trip/band fees, preschool tuition for homeless students, bus tokens, space heater for family, underwear, clothing, lunch assistance, hygiene items, emergency food support, eyeglasses and vision exams, winter apparel, specialized school supplies, etc.

  • Summer Wild About Reading: Meet at the Trail events are held throughout June and July at local parks utilizing either a permanent Born Learning Trail or the portable version.  This program promotes literacy development while incorporating movement and hands on activities for children. To encourage ongoing reading and the importance of literacy, every child in attendance receives a free book.  Child care providers are also given a bag with free books.    

  • Jumpstart's Read for the Record®   United Way of Southwest Minnesota will once again lead efforts in SW MN to carry out Jumpstart's 2018 Read for the Record® campaign.  Jumpstart's Read for the Record® is an annual reading celebration that highlights the need for quality early education in American by mobilizing adults and children to set a record for the largest shared reading experience on a single day.  Read for the Record® is also a call to action for Americans to recognize the importance of quality early education, especially for our most vulnerable children.  When children start behind in school, they tend to stay behind.  UWSWMN is proud to support this campaign in many of our area schools, childcare centers and libraries

  • 1000 Books Before Kindergarten encourages parents/guardians 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. We work in partnership with all 16 libraries in our service area to offer this program to local families. Each library offers incentives along the way and a graduation celebration upon completion. Contact your local library or UWSWMN at for additional details.

  • Born Learning Trails are designed to help parents, caregivers and communities support early learning by helping boost children’s language and literacy skills and encourage families to get active. Trails include 10 fun, activity-based learning stations and are a great way to elevate awareness of early childhood education, encourage outdoor play and promote active learning in nature. We have installed permanent trails in Cottonwood, Currie, Fulda, Granite Falls, Hendricks, Lake Wilson, Balaton and Walnut Grove, with plans to install one in Dawson in 2018Our first bilingual Trail is scheduled to be installed in Marshall in 2018. We also have a portable version of the Trail which can be used at both indoor and outdoor events throughout the year.     

  • Beyond the Book is an online resource that provides extension activities for 19 popular books including some Imagination Library titles. Extension activities allow children to work on their comprehension and literacy skills.  Learning activities can be accessed by visiting our website ( under the Impact tab.  Spanish books coming soon! This resource is free and available on our website for anyone to use at