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United Way Suncoast is looking for volunteers to serve as part of a statewide initiative to help young children learn to read at grade level.  ReadingPals is a program focused on increasing the number of students who are reading at grade level by the end of third grade.

United Way will connect volunteers to a particular site based on their preferred location schedule. Volunteers will undergo a background screening and receive training in the curriculum selected for their region prior to being assigned a reading pal. Volunteers will continue to work with children in ReadingPals throughout 2013.

Those interested in becoming ReadingPals volunteers should contact United Way Suncoast. Interested prospective volunteers should contact Nicole Brown, Program Manager, ReadingPals, by calling 813-274-0998 or emailing her at  She encourages volunteers to become a part of the program.  “Great readers eventually become great leaders,” said Ms. Brown.

Volunteers will commit to reading for at least an hour per week throughout the school year with one, two or three children. The program uses proven techniques to meet the needs of each community. Volunteers will read a book out loud, guiding children through literacy activities and general conversations about the book. The program also begins to build home libraries for participating children by sending books home throughout the school year.

Children who read at grade level by the fourth grade are four times more likely to graduate from high school. Graduates earn more throughout their lifetime, make better choices, use fewer social services and statistically are more likely to stay out of trouble.

“United Way Suncoast is working with local school districts, early learning coalitions, children’s services councils and other children’s organizations to help students from pre-kindergarten to third grade,” said Diana Baker, president and CEO of United Way Suncoast. “Through Carol and Barney Barnett’s generosity, we will be able to recruit hundreds of local adult volunteers and launch the program in some of the most challenged public schools and neighborhoods.”

In August, 2012, Governor Rick Scott and First Lady Ann Scott joined former Miami Herald Publisher Dave Lawrence, chair of The Children’s Movement of Florida, and Carol Barnett, president of Publix Super Markets Charities, to launch ReadingPals early literacy initiative. Thanks to the Barnett’s generosity, ten United Ways across Florida will share $3 million over three years to achieve the goal of helping children read on grade level by third grade.

“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  Reading Pals — 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,” said ReadingPals sponsor and proponent of early learning, Carol Barnett. United Way is extremely excited to embark on this new journey towards academic excellence and help people throughout the community.

“Today’s third graders are tomorrow’s doctors, engineers, teachers and innovators — tomorrow’s job creators,” said Governor Rick Scott. “What Carol and Barney Barnett are making possible will make such a difference in the future of our state, and Ann and I look forward to working with them on this great initiative.”

“We are a blessed family, and feel obliged to make sure we give back a full measure to our community and country,” said Carol Barnett, who is also vice chair of The Children’s Movement. “There’s no greater investment we could make in the future of Florida.”

“The early years when 90 percent of brain growth occurs are crucial to growing children who become eager students and contributing adults,” said David Lawrence, Jr., chair of The Children’s Movement of Florida. “Learning to read by third grade is crucial, and reading to learn must become the standard by no later than fourth grade. The very future of our state and country depend on this.”

The Florida Department of Education recently released the statewide 2012 third-grade FCAT 2.0 reading scores, and 44 percent – 89,491 students – were found to be reading below grade level. These children, who struggle with reading at a young age, will be four times more likely to drop out of high school than their peers reading at grade level.

Ten United Ways across the state have received ReadingPals grants.  Locally, this includes United Way of Central Florida (Polk and Highlands counties), United Way of Manatee County, and United Way Suncoast (DeSoto, Hillsborough, Pinellas, and Sarasota counties.

United Way Suncoast has made a commitment to work with children and youth to help them achieve their full potential in life by focusing programs on early childhood learning.  This is part of their three-part community impact agenda that includes financial stability for families and health initiatives.  Learn more about United Way Suncoast at .



Our campaign included time at the Boys and Girls Club in Clearwater’s North Greenwood neighborhood.

A disturbing report was released last month. According to the Census Bureau, the U.S. poverty rate spiked to 15.1 percent in 2010, the highest level since 1993. The rate in Florida was 16 percent. 

In 2010, poverty was defined as an annual income of $22,314 for a family of four and $11,139 for a single person.  

The news was even worse for our nation’s children, whose poverty rate was 22%. That means that almost one in four children in our country lives in poverty.

As I think about the struggling families in our area, I’m determined that United Way of Tampa Bay will work harder than ever to help.  

Last year, we invested 40 percent of your donations in our safety net services. Our partner food banks served 80,000 people – up 10,000 from the previous year. Our sheltering partners provided a safe place to sleep for more than 4,300 people.  We are the fiscal agent and manage distribution of the Emergency Food and Shelter Program that allocates dollars for food, rent, mortgages and utilities for the neediest in our community. And we provide free tax preparation to working families to ensure they keep more of what they earn.

As you think about your investment in your community, consider these numbers. Think about the children who are living in poverty. When you’ve given what you’re able to, think about other ways you can help. Become a tutor at a low-income school. Volunteer at a social service agency so they can use their funds to serve the community.

I have high hopes that one day soon, more people will be employed and more families with children will be lifted out of poverty. I know that without your help, your investments and your time, we would not be doing as well as we are. Thank you for doing what you can to help others. Your caring keeps me going.


Diana Baker, President and CEO


Around the corner came a little golden ball of sunshine named Madison, dressed head to toe in pink, hair arranged in Afro puffs, one wrist covered in turquoise beaded bracelets, arms opened wide. She wrapped those arms around a teacher’s legs, hugged them close and looked up with the kind of smile that sets the world right.

Madison is 4 years old. She is happy and thriving. This is her second year of Head Start in the basement of a building that houses the poor and homeless in one of Manhattan’s poorest neighborhoods.

I met Madison and 50 other little rays of hope at the Dorothy Day Apartments on Riverside Drive in West Harlem. The building is the sixth in the neighborhood run by Broadway Housing Communities, and the first to include a day care center serving both the building and the community. This former drug den is not only beautiful, but it also pulses with pride and hope and happiness.

It’s just what I needed to see. Writing about children and the poor and the vulnerable these days, there aren’t very many bright spots — but this is one.

The children are bathed by natural light that floods into the basement through skylights. The floors are covered by beautiful green ceramic tile made to look like slate. The walls are painted a sunrise yellow, lined with thick wooden moldings and covered with well-framed pieces of art — some by the children, some donated. The courtyard, which had been filled with six feet of garbage, is covered with mats and used as an area where wee little legs that barely have kneecaps can be folded into funky shapes for daily yoga.

Above the day care center are six floors of housing for 190 people, more than half of whom are children and all of whom were either homeless or in extreme poverty. Many of the adults are the hardest cases: those recovering from drug addiction, those with chronic diseases like H.I.V. and those with mental disabilities. In fact, most of the adults suffer from some form of disability.

And on the top floor is an art gallery that opens onto a sweeping veranda, lined with flowering plants and with some of the most magnificent Hudson River views in the city.

It is easy to forget that you’re in a low-income housing building. The administrators joked often when I was there about the chic woman who had jumped out of a cab and inquired about rents because she wanted a river view, only to be told to her befuddlement that the building was for the poor. “She was shocked,” they chuckled.

There are no security guards. There is no commotion. There are no signs of institutional living like names above doors. There isn’t even so much as a crayon mark on any of the walls. This is an oasis of civility and tranquility and culture inhabited — and to some degree, self-policed — by people whom the world would rob of those dignities.

So why so much emphasis on beauty and art, I asked?

One administrator responded resolutely: “You don’t just give a person four walls to live in. You give them something to be inspired by.”

Ellen Baxter, the founder and executive director of Broadway Housing Communities, an unassuming woman whose braided ponytail swept the middle of her back, chimed in that “art and nature show the other side of poverty.” She continued, “Poverty denigrates people and dehumanizes people.”

Another administrator said that the environment helped to “stabilize the parents to provide a platform for the children.” And those children, she said, can create “pathways out of poverty” for the whole family.

As Lady Bird Johnson once famously said, “Where flowers bloom, so does hope.”

The administrators talk a lot about community and citizenship and the building being a village of people supporting and protecting each other, and it strikes me how apropos the village metaphor is.

They have taken the most extreme cases, given them a warm, safe, stable and, yes, beautiful place to live, while treating them with dignity and respect. And the transformations of the adults, and, more important, the outcomes for the children have been incredible.

The Dorothy Day Apartments have been open since 2003, and they have had no arrests and no teenage pregnancies, unless you count the girl who was pregnant when she moved in.

Most of the children went through the Head Start program in the basement, which now mostly serves the surrounding community. None of the children have dropped out of school. A handful have even earned scholarships to the city’s better private schools. Of the 10 children who have graduated from high school, eight have gone on to college and one has just graduated from college. (None of the adults in the building have ever been to college.)

The building runs mentoring programs and literacy programs and English as a second language programs. It maintains a computer lab and this week launched a partnership with what is essentially an international, Internet-based book club for boys in the building. (The girls’ group will begin next week.) It’s fantastic.

I know what you’re asking now, because it’s the same thing I asked: how much does something like this cost, because it sounds too good to be true?

Well, the cost of the building plus renovations was $17 million. So if it houses 190 people, that works out to about $89,500 a person, not including most of the children served by the day care center.

But let’s put that into the context of prison construction, for instance. According to the New York State Commission of Correction, 1,000 new jail beds will have been built between the end of 2007 and the end of 2011 in the counties of Albany, Essex, Rensselaer and Suffolk at a cost of $100,000 per bed.

Furthermore, as Broadway Housing Communities points out on its Web site, “permanent supportive housing for an individual costs taxpayers $12,500 annually, compared to annual costs of $25,000 for an emergency shelter cot; $60,000 for a prison cell; and $125,000 for a psychiatric hospital bed.”

In the long run it’s a bargain and builds more productive citizens — starting with little girls like Madison who bring the sunshine into the basement.

United Way of Tampa Bay’s Seventh Annual Art of Giving Event

An exciting, glamour-filled evening with fashion guru Tim Gunn will be held Thursday, May 5, 2011 at the A La Carte Event Pavilion in Tampa –helping local kids and their families.

United Way of Tampa Bay’s Seventh Annual Art of Giving is themed “Caring with Style” and benefits the Summer Care, initiative which provides free summer child care and financial education to working families in Tampa Bay. Art of Giving is a special fundraising event produced by the volunteers of United Way’s Women’s Leadership group. Individual tickets are $125; table sponsorships are available.

The marquee presentation brings noted celebrity Tim Gunn to the stage where he will enlighten and entertain on his career and experiences from his lofty perch in the world of fashion. His famous catch phrase, “make it work” helps to provide insight and inspiration on doing your best and looking your best.

Mr. Gunn is the Chief Creative Officer of Liz Claiborne. He serves as the co-host and mentor of the six-time Emmy-nominated Project Runway, a reality-based fashion design cable series. He has covered the red carpet at the Academy Awards, Emmy Awards and Golden Globes for The Today Show and Entertainment Tonight, and co-hosted the Official Oscar Red Carpet Pre-Show in 2011 for ABC. Mr. Gunn has penned articles for Elle, Seventeen, People, US Weekly, Fortune, and Marie Claire. His first book, A Guide to Quality, Taste and Style, was the core of ‘Tim Gunn’s Guide to Style’, a two-season makeover show on Bravo. His newest book, Gunn’s Golden Rules, and rose to #5 on the New York Times bestseller list.

Art of Giving is filled many activities, including both silent and live auctions. The “Power of the Purse” auction will include haute couture purses from some of the most luxurious international designers, fabulous trips to international destinations and more. Generous donations for the Art of Giving auctions were provided by Busch Gardens, Cason Portrait Studio, Clearwater Marine Aquarium, Columbia, Dali Museum, Dinner Done, Florida Aquarium, Florida Estates Winery, Fred Astaire Dance Studio, Ken Walters Promotions & Products, Kramer Portrait Studios, New York, Lowry Park Zoo, Massage Envy, Melitta USA, Inc., Outback Bowl, Post Card Inn, PRP Wine International, Sarasota Opera, Stumps/Howl at the Moon, Sunken Gardens, The Pink Petticoat, The Ritz Carlton Orlando, Grande Lakes, TinaTapas, TradeWinds Island Resorts, University of South Tampa, Athletic Department, Westchase Golf Club, Wright’s Gourmet House, Wyndham Tampa Westshore and others.

“Tim Gunn’s appearance at this year’s Art of Giving takes us to a whole new level of fun and fundraising,” said Afira DeVries, United Way of Tampa Bay Vice President of Resource Development. “And when you recognize we are raising money so parents can send their children to a safe environment during the summer, it becomes more of a labor of love.”

Art of Giving is presented by Bank of America and is sponsored by Publix Super Markets Charities, Gerdau Ameristeel, Ace Beauty Company, Barefoot Wines, Flowerama, Kelloggs/Kashi, Lazydays, Neiman Marcus Cosmetics, Verdacia Salon and Spa, Westshore Plaza, and Whitebook Agency. Media sponsors include the Tampa Tribune and NewsChannel 8, Cox Radio Group, Genesis Communications, and the Tampa Bay Business Journal.

Women’s Leadership is a unique group of women who recognizes the need to move our children and families from a place of instability to independence by providing out-of-school care and financial literacy programs. The movement accelerates the community’s goal of ensuring that every child begins school ready to learn and graduates with the skills necessary to enter into higher education and job training.

For tickets visit ART OF GIVING Registration or call 813.274.0914.

Event Schedule:

Art of Giving
Thursday, May 5, 2011
5:30 – 6:30 p.m. Cocktails, Registration, Auction & Fashion Fun
6:30 – 9:00 p.m. – Dinner and Program

A La Carte Event Pavilion
4050 Dana Shores Drive
Tampa, FL 33634
Tickets: $125.00

Table sponsorships available

Recently, United Way was approached by with an exciting opportunity that we would like to share with you – and make $7,500 available to worthy education projects in our community. is an online charity that makes it easy for people to help meet classroom needs and/or support classroom projects all across the country. And, thanks to a grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, is partnering with local businesses and civic organizations to fund classroom projects in Hillsborough County.

Our United Way has agreed to help distribute these electronic gift cards to the public. The eCards are absolutely free to you. The only restrictions are that they need to be redeemed online before April 11, 2011, and that they have to be used to support classroom projects from Hillsborough County Schools as per the Gates Foundation, who provided the grant for the program. The first 300 people signing up will receive a $25 eCard to use for educational programs at local classrooms. You get to choose the school and program.

To get one of the eCards (sent to you via email) all you need to sign up with our Raise Your Hand for Education initiative. This campaign is uniting people from all walks of life to show their support of Tampa Bay kids learning and earning their high school diplomas. United Way believes education is the best path out of poverty and recognizes that everyone in the community should have the opportunity to get more kids through school and to high school graduation.

To sign up go to It takes about three minutes to sign up and pledge your support for education. By signing up, you will receive periodic information and recommendations on how you can tutor, mentor and volunteer to help students throughout Tampa Bay. As well, you could even win an iPad for signing up!

After enrolling, you will receive a confirmation and within a few days, you’ll receive an email with the eCard.
To use the gift eCard:

1) Visit:
2) Enter the code you receive in your email.
3) Choose a classroom project to support.

Remember, be sure to spend your gift card before it expires on April 11, 2011.

On behalf of United Way of Tampa Bay, and the Gates Foundation, we are thanking all who participate!

On March 31, United Way is asking America to do just that. We’re hosting the United Way Education Town Hall (10 am – noon ET). We’ll have a live conversation – online and offline – with hundreds of Americans who care about education. We’ll join parents, students and teachers to talk with national education leaders, including U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, at Trinity Washington University in Washington, DC.

The conversation will kick off the national report we’re unveiling, Voices for the Common Good: America Speaks out on Education, which will contain findings from a listening tour of communities across the country, focus groups and a national survey on education. We’ll also talk about what United Way could do in response, especially in terms of recruiting people with the passion and commitment to make a difference.

Hosted by CNN’s Soledad O’Brien, the Education Town Hall will be a chance for anyone to be part of this conversation. The event will be webcast at the town hall website, but you can join the conversation in progress! Visit the United Way Town Hall website.

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5201 W. Kennedy Blvd.,
Suite 600 Tampa, FL 33609
Ph. (813) 274-0900
Fax. (813) 228-9549

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