It is a harsh reality in Delaware County: nearly half the households live in poverty or are one crisis away from it. It’s often a vicious generational cycle.
Working families face obstacles in reaching health, education, and financial stability. Some who hold full-time or even multiple jobs still fall short of meeting their basic needs. Playing ’catch-up’ can seem like an endless, impossible challenge. Thankfully, local programs are prepared to do what it takes to make a difference in the lives of working families.
Those were the messages at a recent United Way of Delaware County meeting of past donors, held in June at the home of longtime UWDC supporters, Dave and Deb Heeter. Dave is a past Campaign Chair and currently serves on the Campaign’s Leadership Team.
The event sought to honor past chairs and United Way's most generous donors, featuring comments from Dave, UWDC President and CEO Jenni Marsh, United Way of Indiana’s President and CEO Maureen Noe, and myself.
While we spent our fair share of time reminding each other of our goal this year—a focus on bringing all county third graders up to grade-level reading by 2024—and reiterating our commitment to the organization in 2017, the meeting’s purpose was clear. We were to discuss the practical steps to make this campaign beneficial for our community.
Early on in the night, Jenni remarked that third-grade reading is the single greatest indicator of a child’s success. As she explained, that’s the period when children transition from learning how to read, to reading to learn. That means those who struggle with the basic mechanics of reading start to struggle with comprehension around that time. In fourth grade, math problems become story problems. That’s when we see those who struggle with reading, also begin to struggle with math. And so follow all their other subjects, leading to a lower graduation rate from high school.
In fact, a child is four times more likely to not graduate from high school if he or she is not reading at grade-level by third grade. Those who don’t graduate high school are 13 times more likely to live in poverty. The truth is, states even base their prison capacities on third-grade reading scores. Clearly, youth literacy is an important metric.
To say I was taken aback by our Leadership Campaign’s determination this year would be an understatement. Throughout the night, we heard stories from people we’ve talked to at shelters and food pantries who share the same narrative, “I don’t know what to do. I’m working hard for my kids. But to keep it up, I need to be well fed and safe. I need more education.” It’s easy to see why our resources must be delivered in a balanced effort across more than just one program or organization.
For sure, we have our work cut out for us. Many different stars must align. But if there’s a group of people with the capacity to create new constellations, it’s people like Jenni, Dave, and the rest of our Leadership Team.
UWDC 2017 Campaign Chair