When children are born, they all have the potential to succeed in school and in life. But at some point, their circumstances will affect the opportunities they have and, ultimately, their chances in life. While many children have the support they need to get started on the right foot, prepared for school and ready to succeed, not all children are as fortunate. Too many children live in an environment that isn’t preparing them for a bright future. Brought on by their circumstances, the barriers they face shadow their belief in themselves and what they are capable of.

Most Americans wrongly believe that it is OK for children to enter school without basic literacy skills because they assume they will catch up. The reality is, 88 percent of first graders who are reading below grade level will continue to read below grade level in fourth grade.

Fourth graders who struggle to read are four times more likely to drop out of school as compared to proficient readers.


When students drop out of high school, it’s at great cost to themselves and our community. The student will likely not have the same career opportunities, and research shows that those without a high school diploma will earn 75 percent less than their peer that graduated. The social implications of a student dropping out are far-reaching, beyond any one student or any one family. Communities with higher dropout rates have more crime and poverty and less social and economic stability. The number of high school students who graduate impacts our entire community from our businesses, schools, and local government, to each of us as individuals.


United Way is committed to help change these conditions by leading a comprehensive approach to improving early literacy in our region. United Way has launched the Early Literacy Initiative, bringing together the resources and the expertise necessary for real progress. Through partnerships and collaboration, United Way is uniquely positioned to lead an innovative, comprehensive approach to early literacy and deliver at a regional level. With the objective of sharing and reinforcing proven literacy development techniques, our vision for a successful, regional early literacy initiative requires a multi-prong approach. ELI will make a lasting change because it helps children build the necessary reading skills through parental engagement, volunteer mobilization, caregiver support, teacher training, and community awareness.

United Way Suncoast operates and invests in local programs serving more than 100,000 children and youth (ages 0 – 17) throughout DeSoto, Hillsborough, Manatee, Pinellas, and Sarasota counties. We work with and through a network of some 50 partner agencies across the region to achieve our community educational objectives:

  • Early Literacy to ensure children surpass key school readiness and early grade-level reading benchmarks (ages 0 – 12)
  • Youth Success to help ensure children graduate high school with the skills necessary to pursue postsecondary education or vocational training (ages 13 – 18)


In addition to agency-based programs, United Way Suncoast directly manages specific programs to assist caregivers, providers, and community supports to help children on the Suncoast succeed:

Reading All-Stars

Reading All-Stars is an academic support program designed to strategically and thoughtfully support elementary-age students’ early-literacy success. During a session, Reading Coaches will spend time with students supporting them through read alouds, educational activities, and enrichments which all serve to strengthen the child’s reading skills. Volunteers will receive program-specific training that will allow them to feel confident working with students virtually.

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The Read on myON partnership provides all children from birth through eighth grade in Hillsborough County with access to more than 8,000 e-books. This program is expanding to serve children of Pinellas county as well. The goal of the myON partnership is to provide each child in our community with equitable access to the largest collection of enhanced digital books to encourage reading, increase literacy rates, and promote literacy throughout the region.

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Summer Care

Faced with the high cost of child care, many low income households must choose between quitting their paying job to stay home with their child(ren) over the summer or leaving them with family or other unskilled child care. United Way’s Summer Care initiative ensures that low-income families have access to quality, education enriched summer child care while providing parents with financial literacy classes. In 2015, 589 children received scholarships, and 231 parents received financial education classes in which they learned about budgeting, dollar stretching, and credit/debt management. In addition, 166 children received individual tutoring through United Way Suncoast. Of those 96% had no summer learning loss and on average, participants increased reading ability by 8 months.

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Summer Bridge Books

In addition, at the 29 Summer Care sites (Hillsborough, Pinellas and Sarasota counties) more than 2,800 children received Summer Bridge Books and spent 30 minutes each day engaged with the curriculum over the summer. Of students receiving the books, across all grades and sites, scores on the pre and post-tests increased by nearly 10%.

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Talk With Me Baby

The Talk With Me Baby campaign aims to increase the amount of positive language interactions babies in our communities experience. This will help them develop the foundation for entering kindergarten ready to learn, which sets them up for success in school and life.

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