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How United Way Helps

United Way of Northern Nevada and the Sierra (UWNNS) has completed its historic direction-setting effort to identify and concentrate on the most important social issues affecting the people in our region. On May 21, 2014, after extensive research and input from all 13 Nevada counties we serve, our board of directors  adopted the very critical issue of "children reading at grade level" as its focus area moving forward. This adopted issue will allow us to better prioritize resources to address key issues in order to make the greatest impact and create lasting change.

In the process of selecting the issue of "children reading at grade level," we gathered input from residents in the communities we serve, in order to help identify what issues were most important to them. This was completed via two methods: an online survey distributed to more than 4,000 donors and residents (and made available to hundreds more on the website and through viral distribution) and a number of in-person meetings with groups identified by the UWNNS direction-setting team and our board of directors.

"Children reading at grade level" was an issue that was identified within all 13 Nevada counties as an issue that needed to be a priority. Survey results show 75 percent of respondents indicated the top "social issue" in their community was "education."

Nevada's high school graduation rate continues to rank as one of the lowest in the nation and the cost to both the "drop-out" and the entire community is staggering. Statistics show students that do not graduate from high school are more likely to be unemployed, have a child as a teenager, and rely on government cash assistance, food stamps and housing assistance. Every "drop-out" costs the community an estimated $260,000 in lost earnings, taxes and productivity. The impact of the low graduation rate directly affects Nevada's economy by contributing to the lack of an educated, skilled workforce.

There is a proven, direct relationship between early grade-level reading skills and students receiving a high school diploma. Research has shown that third-grade reading scores are a predictor of who will graduate from high school. Studies also have shown that low-income fourth grade students who cannot read proficiently are likely to become our lowest-income, least-skilled, least-productive and most costly citizens of tomorrow. Currently, 75 percent of Nevada children are not reading at grade level. The region can address this critical issue, preventing the later problems, by rallying around the initiative to get our children reading at grade level.

We are in the process of creating a "Transformation Council" composed of board members and other community leaders that will take the issue of "children reading at grade level" and develop a strategic plan for the implementation by UWNNS and potential partners, which will serve as a roadmap for us on how to best address this newly selected issue.

As the issue of "children reading at grade level" takes priority, it will be inter-related to the three United Way "building blocks" of education, financial stability, and health. All of these issues are intertwined and some initiatives addressing aspects of financial stability and health may be added to help achieve the goal of children reading at grade level.

We have a rich history in working with our community's parents and children on similar issues:

  • Our Born Learning program is a long-standing initiative designed to support early learning and school readiness. The program provides early child development tools, curriculum and training to parents, early learning teachers and caregivers.
  • UWNNS' pilot work of 2011-13 in providing reading intervention to help raise grade level reading scores.
  • Our participation in the national effort, Campaign for Grade Level Reading, geared towards tackling school readiness, chronic absence and summer learning loss.
  • We also partnered with the Washoe County School District in 2013 to combat "summer learning loss" with its Summer Literacy Project. The program provided parent trainings on how parents could support their children at home in learning despite not being in school during the summer months.
  • Our support of Big Brothers Big Sisters allowing them to expand its mentoring and prevention programs to at-risk youth.
  • Our support of the Wells Family Resource Center enables scholarships for children with special needs and low-income and non-English speaking household to receive access to licensed and quality childcare, which includes early learning and pre-kindergarten activities.

The adoption of this new issue of "children reading at grade level" also will mark the immediate and permanent shift of our organization to a mobile outreach and philanthropy experience. We will launch the mobile community that will give members opportunities to engage with and/or donate to UWNNS using their mobile device. As mobile phones and devices continue to be the preferred way for communication, this mobile community will make it easier and more convenient for northern Nevadans to engage and stay connected with us. Those interested in joining the mobile community can text CONNECT to 50555.