Written by Greg Moses | Photographed by Chris Hari
Education has long been one of the three key components of the United Way of McMinn & Meigs Counties’ vision along with promoting good health and stability in the family. With those three things, everyone has the opportunity to attain a good quality of life.
Among the many educational initiatives United Way has funded in McMinn and Meigs counties are:
• Let’s Read 20 – a new community initiative developed in partnership with the McMinn County Education Foundation, United Way of McMinn & Meigs Counties, Athens City Schools, Etowah City Schools and McMinn County Schools to inspire and encourage families to read together for 20 minutes a day. Approximately 70 percent of the children in the McMinn County area are classified as economically disadvantaged by state standards, and their families have limited resources for providing print-rich environments in their homes. Researcher Susan Neumann has documented that students living in poverty virtually live in “book deserts” where their families have few, if any, options for purchasing low-cost books. While several retail locations in McMinn County sell books, the low-cost options are very limited. Neumann’s report questions, “How do you become literate when there are no available resources?” Let’s Read 20, which will kick off in October, aspires to collaborate with other community partners to educate our families on the importance of reading, to provide books and materials for their homes and to increase the overall literacy of our residents.
• Athens-McMinn Family YMCA Summer Learning Loss Prevention – With more than 60 percent of local children meeting poverty guidelines – well above the national average – that means many children are in danger of falling two to three grade levels behind by middle school. The Athens-McMinn Family YMCA’s Summer Learning Loss Prevention program works to boost reading skills both after school and during the summer months while also providing a safe environment for at-risk children.
• McMinn County Education Foundation – a group of local volunteers who administer and raise funds for such programs as the McMinn County Imagination Library, which provides free books each month to all children, regardless of family income, from birth to age five; grants for teachers to purchase needed classroom supplies; youth recognition programs such as the Youth Leadership Awards for sixth-, seventh- and eighth-grade students; Eighth Grade Career Day; Ready To Read, a cooperative effort with United Way to provide books to all local first- and second-grade students at the end of each school year; Newspapers In Education through The Daily Post-Athenian to provide newspapers as supplemental textbooks in local classrooms; and STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) Camp Scholarships for area students. For adult learners, MCEF aids in funding two days of classroom time for River Valley Adult Education through the help of United Way and also provides scholarships to allow students to take the high school equivalency exam.
• Boy Scouts – With 18 units in McMinn County (including six Boy Scout troops, seven Cub Scout packs and one each of Venture Crew, Explorer Post and Sea Scout Ship), the Boy Scouts of America mission is to prepare young people to make ethical and moral choices over their lifetimes. Through the new STEM Scout program (which boasts two labs in McMinn County at North City and Westside schools in Athens), the program introduced both boys and girls to various aspects of science, technology, engineering and mathematics in an after-school enrichment program.