In addition to investing in core programs through partner agencies, United Way of Story County (UWSC) offers the opportunity for human service agencies in Story County to apply for grant funding. When funding is available (which may come from such sources as designated campaign donations, income from the UWSC Endowment or the annual budget, for example), the UWSC Allocations Committee will generally review applications each month before presenting recommendations to the UWSC board of directors. The awarded grants must support unanticipated, emerging or other under-funded needs.

For the next several months, this column will highlight some recent grant recipients as a way to share the good work of local agencies and, at the same time, fill you in on other opportunities UWSC provides beyond the traditional campaign and funding model.

In November, the UWSC board of directors voted to allocate a $4,900 grant to Raising Readers in Story County to fund the organization’s Reach Out and Read books for infants aged two and nine months.

Reach Out and Read is a national school readiness initiative in which doctors give books to children, and families are encouraged to read together. Research shows the program improves home literacy environments and developmental outcomes for children. This program supports the UWSC education priority by building the foundation for reading and learning success. By partnering with doctors countywide, the program also contributes to the UWSC health priority. Infant brains are shaped early by interactive relationships with adults. Parent surveys indicated most families didn’t start early literacy activities until after receiving a book from the doctor at six and nine months. By giving "Fun with Baby" materials at the two-month checkup, doctors can encourage families earlier to start building healthy relationships with their babies. The Reach Out and Read program advises parents about the importance of reading with children and gives them materials to do it.

Children who get off to a good start are more likely to become successful students, graduates, employees and contributors to society, and that’s why early childhood literacy is such an important initiative for many organizations, including UWSC. The 2010 Story Healthcare Survey reported parent education as a significant need, and the 2007 Story County Community Empowerment Plan said providing educational training, support and resources to families and children is an early childhood priority. In addition, Story County kindergarten teachers identified "reading aloud to kids at home" as an important need, and school readiness is a focus of the Ames Reads collaboration, led by UWSC.

It can also be noted that, just as in the ASSET process, outcomes are important to UWSC in the grant process as well. After UWSC has received a signed agreement from Raising Readers, or any other agency, the grant payment is made. A report on the status of the program and use of UWSC funds will be required from Raising Readers six months after the initial grant date.

In these two age groups, 2,400 children in Story County and their families will be served from Reach Out and Read. Outcomes for the program are two-fold: Raising Readers is hoping families will read with children most days, and all children entering kindergarten will demonstrate a proficient level of early literacy skills by fall of 2020. (Up three percent annually from 74 percent in 2011).

Sara Wilson is marketing director for United Way of Story County, a strategic leader in building countywide partnerships to identify needs and to develop, support and evaluate effective human services, especially in the areas of education, income and health, for our diverse community.