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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 .



Clearwater kids with who have had difficulty with law enforcement and keeping up in the classroom have found a new resource to get back on track toward graduation.

Many of these students have lost academic credits — but through Operation Graduate, many are recovering academic credit and on the path to their cap and gown.

Credit recovery students completed Operation Graduate, each with his or her own unique success story. Twelve students received certificates of completion August 4th, 2011, during a ceremony at Clearwater Police Headquarters. The following two success stories highlight the positive impact this program has had on participating students. United Way of Tampa Bay has been a partner in this program and the results are optimistic.

A teenager with a 0.5 GPA missed 118 days of school and was arrested five times between 2010 and 2011. When this teen entered the program he was skeptical and not convinced he was able to graduate. He was encouraged to put the effort forth in credit recovery to get back on track in school. The teen was present every day for Operation Graduate’s credit recovery program and earned a half credit for English and is well on the way to completing the second half credit. A half credit is equivalent to half of a normal school year. Since joining the program, the teen has not had additional contact with law enforcement other than mentoring.

Another teenager never attended a full day of school last year.
This teen had a 1.1 GPA and was arrested six times in the past two years. She was also skeptical of the program and was also encouraged to put forth an effort in the program. She has earned one full credit in algebra, making up for two failing grades. Since joining the program, this teen also has not had additional contact with law enforcement other than mentoring.

The credit recovery portion of the program includes juveniles who are currently on probation. Officer Christian Zarra is the coordinator and works with the Department of Juvenile Justice. “This job is more than about making arrests. It’s about helping people,” said Ofc. Zarra. “We don’t want to simply continue arresting these kids. We want to do something to help change their lives.” During yesterday’s ceremony, several children spoke about how Operation Graduate changed their outlook on life and gave them a second chance and a new dream. Due to confidentiality and public record laws exemptions, no names or photos will be released.

Operation Graduate seeks to increase the number of youth with on-time graduation, introduce high school students to college and work experiences, help develop life skills and provide students and their families with service referrals and interventions. Partners include the Clearwater Police Department, United Way of Tampa Bay, St. Petersburg College, Clearwater Campus, Pinellas County Schools, Florida Department of Juvenile Justice, Clearwater Parks and Recreation and the Upper Pinellas Ministerial Alliance.

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.


At 9:00 a.m., Thursday, October 22, 2009 at the Doubletree Hotel in Tampa, local business executives, educators, community impact organizations and government leaders will meet at Graduation Pathway. Participants will learn how to positively influence high school graduation rates in Hillsborough County.

Convened by the Children’s Board, the City of Tampa, Hillsborough County Public Schools and United Way of Tampa Bay, Graduation Pathway offers area business leaders critical information to keep teens focused and graduating from high school.

Graduation Pathway addresses the issue as a community-wide challenge, not just that of schools or parents, and is designed for CEOs, COOs, senior executives, entrepreneurs and human resource directors.

Dr. Bill R. Daggett, president of the International Center for Leadership in Education, is the keynote speaker. His presentation,  The New 3 R’s: Rigor, Relevance and Relationships focuses on the impact of high school graduation on the future Tampa Bay workforce.

Dr. Daggett has also collaborated with education groups in several countries, the Council of Chief State School Officers, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the National Governors’ Association, and other national organizations.  He is recognized worldwide for his proven ability to move education systems toward more rigorous and relevant skills and knowledge for students. He has assisted several states and hundreds of school districts, including Hillsborough, with their school improvement initiatives, many in response to No Child Left Behind and its demanding adequate yearly progress provisions.

Also presenting is MaryEllen Elia, superintendent of Hillsborough County Public Schools, the eighth largest school district in the United States with more than 189,000 students and almost 26,000 full-time employees. MaryEllen has been superintendent since July 2005 and draws on a deep reservoir of educational experience in her CEO responsibilities.

Dr. Daggett will facilitate a panel discussion on strategies proven to increase graduation rates.  The prominent panel participants are Joe Follman, Executive Director of Learn & Serve Florida; Gordon Gillette, CEO of TECO & People’s Gas; Judy Nee, Executive Director of the National Afterschool Association; Joe Radelet, VP of Mentoring for Big Brothers, Big Sisters of America; and Chuck Saylors, President of the National PTA.

Breakout sessions on these strategies include Service Learning, Parent Involvement, Business Mentors, Out-of-School Time, and Ready for Work or School follow the panel. A complimentary luncheon provided by our sponsors follows with welcoming remarks by Mayor Pam Iorio, City of Tampa.

Graduation Pathway is free; attendees will receive lunch and program materials.  Interested individuals must register online.

Graduation Pathway is underwritten by State Farm Insurance, Humana and America’s Promise. Without their generous support, it would not be possible. The Tampa Bay Business Journal is the exclusive media sponsor.


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