As originally published in the Our Towns section of The State Journal-Register on Sunday, November 29, 2015.
This holiday weekend represents the beginning of the holiday shopping season, marked by Black Friday, Small Business Saturday and Cyber Monday. However, the holiday season is traditionally a season of giving, and as such deserves its own day in which members of our community join together to inspire people to take action to improve their local communities and support the charities and causes working to create a better world.
In 2012, the 92nd Street Y and United Nations Foundation, in partnership with organizations such as United Way, set out to create a National Day of Giving to take place on the Tuesday following the Thanksgiving Holiday. The Day of Giving, known as #GivingTuesday, provides an opportunity to channel the generous spirit of the holiday season to inspire action around charitable giving, and work together to find ways to promote and celebrate the great American tradition of giving.
This year, United Way of Central Illinois is proud to partner with local nonprofit, business and community leaders to join the national #GivingTuesday movement and raise awareness for programs in our local community which are helping to build a brighter future for our children.
Each year, United Way invests a portion of its community funding to education-based programs because we believe we all win when a child succeeds in school and in life. Education, like financial stability and health, is one of the building blocks for a good quality of life and is key to reducing long-term poverty rates and breaking the cycle of victimization. After all, despite 238 years of national progress, illiteracy remains the greatest contributing factor with regards to elevated poverty rates.
Success in education begins with an early start which means developing early reading skills and getting parents and caregivers involved in a child’s education. The best way to accomplish both of these goals is simple: introduce more books into the home.
In 2011, United Way of Central Illinois introduced Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library to our community. This early childhood literacy program was designed to create a love of reading in children at an early age, improve kindergarten readiness and help bring families together.
The program provides preschool children, under the age of 5, with a free, age-appropriate book each month until their fifth birthday. A newborn enrolled in the program today would build a 60-volume library by the time he or she enters kindergarten; beginning with “The Little Engine That Could,” and ending with the final book children receive upon reaching their fifth birthday is “Look out Kindergarten, Here I Come!”
The monthly arrival of each new book presents an opportunity for a child to experience the excitement of receiving a gift and delivering it to his or her parent’s lap, to be read as a family. Research of the program has echoed to the praise we’ve heard time and time again from parents and educators: Their children are excited, learning to read and learning to “love learning.”
Since its introduction, United Way has distributed more than 90,000 books to preschool age children in our community, with a majority being signed up by programs serving a large number of at-risk preschoolers. However, the success of the program depends on the generosity of our community.
Today, more than 800 local children are on the program’s waiting list. Children on the waiting list are added on a first-come, first-serve basis once we receive sufficient funding to guarantee them books for the life of the program. The program costs just $25 to provide a child with a full year of new books.
This #GivingTuesday, we invite you to be a part of a global celebration of a new tradition of generosity by giving the Gift of Reading to a child in our community. We hope you will join us in celebrating this national day of giving by strengthening early childhood education in our community and providing our youngest generation with the greatest opportunity to succeed.
This #GivingTuesday and holiday season, consider giving the Gift of Reading and sponsoring a child in our community.
John Kelker is president of United Way of Central Illinois. Look for United Way columns weekly in Our Towns.