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United Way set to kick off reading initiative

Young students targeted as means of improving community

POSTED: February 5, 2014 12:04 a.m.

The best time to impact lives and boost education? Before a child reaches the age of 5.

“We want to make our community aware of the issue,” United Way President Jackie Wallace said. “It’s something that I think sometimes comes under the radar, so we don’t realize the importance of it or the impact.”

Because of this, United Way of Hall County is kicking off a communitywide initiative of encouraging schools, businesses and community leaders to work together to increase literacy among younger students with the ultimate goal of creating a stronger workforce.

“It’s a focus on literacy, and literacy for the purpose of building communities,” said Gainesville Superintendent Merrianne Dyer, who has helped coordinate the efforts. “(It’s about) having a qualified workforce and having a healthy, developed community.”

The kickoff breakfast for this Read, Learn, Succeed initiative is scheduled for Tuesday at 7:30 a.m. in the Brenau Downtown Center. Featured speaker Candace Kendler is the co-founder and president of ReadAloud.org, a nonprofit and United Way partner that works to encourage reading out loud to children for 15 minutes a day.

“She is an advocate for literacy and particularly in reading, and she has branched out in her business networks in connecting those things,” Dyer said. “Her biggest contribution, I think, to this breakfast and to our community is to link what businesses and industry can do about early learning (opportunities).”

Both Dyer and Wallace said they hope local businesses, particularly those with high employee numbers, will be open to allowing reading and education experts in for special programs.

“What Gainesville City Schools would like to see is perhaps a manufacturing company or poultry plant to invite us to come in to their breakroom and meet with parents and talk to them about things they can do (with their children),” Dyer said, explaining it’s not just about reading but conversational skills.

She said educational television programs such as “Sesame Street” are also beneficial, but parents still need to learn how to talk to their children about what they are seeing on the screen.

“It’s basic dialogue with parents about how they can help their children,” she said. “How you can talk with your child in the grocery store, that kind of thing.”

“Truly, children are born learning,” Wallace added. “That language development is so important in those first years of life.”

A literacy event is being planned for May, involving Hall County, the Head Start pre-K program and Gainesville City Schools to bring families together for an opportunity to practice these skills and learn how they can prepare their child for the beginning of school.

“This is more than just a social issue or just an education issue,” Wallace said. “This is an economic development, workforce development issue. These children are our employees and customers of the future.”

The Feb. 11 breakfast is free, but reservations are requested by the end of today. For more information and to register, contact DeAnna Browne at 678-989-5336 or dbrowne@unitedwayhallcounty.org.


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