Press Release: United Way Announces Venture Grant to Support Family Literacy Week Programs at Early Learning Center

Early Learning CenterUnited Way of Central Illinois presented $3,491.18 in venture grant funding to the Early Learning Center (ELC) to support family literacy week programs in March.

The Early Learning Center was presented a $3,491.18 venture grant to support multiple activities, including a family literacy night fiesta: Celebrating Literacy through Books and Music, during the school’s literacy week. The fiesta will take place on March 10, 2014, and is paired with a series of reading-related activities during the 2nd week of March, including a Scholastic Book Fair fundraiser that is a weeklong event. The book fair, staffed by volunteers from PNC Bank, provides families’ access to some of the newest, age appropriate books, provides children a chance to choose their own book, promotes family involvement, and helps to build classroom libraries and the school library.

The fiesta is one of literacy week’s fun-filled, free evening events for all 700 students and their families. The event focuses on the importance of literacy, encourages the love of reading, exposes families to the joy of interactive literacy and music, and creates an opportunity for families to be engaged in their child’s education and school.

During the evening, classrooms pair up to provide literacy activity stations that families rotate through during the event; families can participate in a Book Walk to win books; and this year we will also feature ELC’s own teacher, Allison Gnuse, who will lead a Read Aloud from her recently published book, My African Home. Students and families will also be able to participate in Estimation Station for door prizes of book family packs. ELC will have a Pete the Cat mascot greeting and interacting with families throughout the night. A volunteer photographer will be on hand to capture a family picture that will be sent home later that week.

The highlight of the fiesta will be two performances by Eric Litwin, # 1 New York Times Best-Selling Author and Award Winning Musician. Eric comes from Atlanta, Georgia, and is best known through his New York Times best selling book series, Pete the Cat. Eric Litwin (Mr. Eric) is a guitar strumming, book writing, harmonica blowing, song singing, folksy, fun type of guy. He is the # 1 New York Times Best Selling author of the first four Pete the Cat picture books and the author of the new musical series The Nuts. Eric’s books have sold over 1.5 million copies, been translated into seven languages and won 15 state and national awards including a Theodor Geisel Seuss Honor Award. He has also recorded award-winning music CDs. Eric is a popular performing artist who plays guitar, sings, tells musical stories and brings books to life.

The venture grant funding supports literacy week activities, including literacy & music activities/supplies for classrooms, books to be provided to families, the fiesta performance, and transportation costs for low-income families.

“Early childhood readiness is key to long term academic success,” said John Kelker, President of United Way of Central Illinois. “An overwhelming majority of ELC students are considered to be at-risk, having one or more characteristics that may adversely impact their readiness for kindergarten and further school success. ELC’s literacy week and fiesta are designed to make reading fun, promote family involvement in a child’s education, and better prepare their children for kindergarten.”

United Way’s venture fund was created to provide one-time funding for projects created to enhance the quality of life in Sangamon and Menard counties. Eligible projects must also be aligned with one or more of United Way’s funding priorities which are food, shelter, healthcare, victim services, and educational initiatives. Although projects must align with United Way’s funding priorities, any nonprofit organization, regardless of membership, may apply for funding. Funding decisions are made by a committee of local volunteers responsible for evaluating grant applications and program outcomes.

For more information on United Way, please contact Jarid Brown, Director of Communications at 217-726-7000 or by email at