United Way puts local dollars to work in literacy kits

Giving to organizations like the United Way is just something people do.

Donors know that the United Way is going to use the donated dollars to do something good within the community, but they usually do not follow the trail of those dollars.

Middletown Principal Carol Shallenberger is no different.

“I’ve given to the United Way; I know so many people have,” she said. “But I don’t always know what the money goes to.”

When Shallenberger was approached by the Mahomet Area Youth Club Director Chad Hoffman about a literacy project the United Way wanted to share with the Mahomet Community, Shallenberger was excited.

While the United Way provides MAYC with grant support for their junior high programming, United Way President and CEO Sue Grey also wanted to share literacy kits with the Mahomet Community.

According to the United Way website, approximately 33 percent of students entering kindergarten in the Champaign County area are not ready for school.

In order to help families prepare for kindergarten, the United Way provides a free kindergarten Getting Ready for Kindergarten Calendar to anyone who wants to download it. But the United Way also knows that resources are often scarce for some families.

“They made this a priority because they know in the community there are families who aren’t as fortunate to have books in the home or simple materials that encourage parent interaction with the kids instead of just sending the kids off,” Shallenberger said.

The literacy bag that includes things like the Kindergarten Calendar, parenting tips and a checklist, two board books, construction paper, markers, crayons, scissors, toothpaste and hand sanitizer.

More than 100 volunteers help to put the kits together then walked door-to-door to over 650 homes in Champaign-Urbana to encourage literacy in the home.

Mahomet was the recipient of 75 kits. The plan was for MAYC to deliver the kits to homes, but instead, Middletown Elementary staff handed the kits to students who came to Pre-K screenings and Pre-K students who will enter kindergarten next year.

Shallenberger, who said she is most interested in literacy education, said there is a new initiative for pre-kindergarten students to read 1000 books before they enter kindergarten.

She said if you think about it, that’s reading just one book a day for three years.

“But that means having access to books,” Shallenberger said. “That means having someone who will sit down with you. We could give kids 1000 books, but you’re not going to get the same result if you have someone who will sit down with you and engage in vocabulary, conversation and language, which is the foundation of it all.”

With the integration of technology reaching even the smallest children, Shallenberger said that the district sees the impact on their youngest students. With the addition of drawing and writing materials in the literacy bag, Shallenberger said that it will give parents an opportunity to understand that drawing and writing on paper is the basis for literacy.

“One of the things we are finding is that so many kids are doing tech stuff or sitting in front of TVs or computers that they’re fine motor skills are not as strong,” she said. “So in our classrooms we’re pulling out play dough again and little pincher that help develop those fine motor muscles that you don’t think about as a parent.”

The literacy kits also included a card that informed them about a 2-1-1 hotline that is sponsored by the United Way.

This confidential 24-hour hotline connects people to a community resource specialist who can help locate organizations that provide shelter and utility assistance, food and nutrition programs, emergency information or disaster relief, employment and education opportunities, veteran services, health care information, addiction prevention and rehab programs, support groups and a confidential path out of a relationship with abuse.

The United Way also provides additional school-readiness programs such as two Born Learning Trails located at 203 E. Church St in Savoy and 1006 N. Walnut St in Champaign.

In June they host a Day of Action where they collect new or gently used books for preschool-aged children. And in April they host the Ready. Set. Grow. Expo at Garden Hills Elementary School.

To learn more about the United Way visit their website at

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I may do it all, but I have not done it all.

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One Comment

  1. United Way’s “Getting Ready for Kindergarten Calendars” can be found at local libraries including Mahomet Public Library!

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