May 30, 2018
It was a day like any other at East Tenth United Methodist Children and Youth Center. Gray, a curly-haired, bright eyed four-year-old, was finished for the day and getting ready for his mom to pick him up. As he approached the cubby wall, he saw all the students had something waiting in their cubbies: a white cardboard box. What’s this, a gift? he thought. He grabbed the box and went home with his mother, excited and wondering about what was in his surprise.
The second Gray and his mother Beth got home, Gray ripped open the box. “Look Mom, someone gave me a gift!” he exclaimed. As he opened the lid, Beth picked up a piece of paper that made it clear to Beth what this “gift” was – it was a Literacy Kit provided to East Tenth by United Way of Central Indiana.
Gray quickly sorted the items of the Literacy Kit out on his bed: There were books, colored pencils, Popsicle sticks of all colors, pipe cleaners and more. As he filtered through the array of items in the box, his face lit up as he bolted upright. “Mommy, I want to work like YOU!” he exclaimed. “I want to have a desk.” That night, Beth created Gray his own “work” area. Together, they arranged the colored pencils, Popsicle sticks, pipe cleaners and books on his very own desk, where Grey got to work creating, reading, writing and drawing.
Three weeks later, Gray is still using his Literacy Kit. He loves reading the books with Beth, who uses the opportunity to teach him the meanings of new words and improve his comprehension. “In the last six months or so, his interest in reading, drawing, writing, letters and shapes has really exploded,” says Beth. “Even just this morning while I was getting ready he was sitting at his desk making a sign for his door. He was all excited about what he was creating – the Literacy Kit has really sparked him to be more creative.”
Thanks to United Way, these Literacy Kits are being put into the hands of thousands of children throughout early education centers in Central Indiana. Women United, United Way’s Affinity group focused on early childhood education, has packed nearly 1,000 kits this past year for local students. Yet Gray is one of the lucky ones — because for some of Gray’s classmates, receiving a Literacy Kit is the only way for them to get these types of supplies at home. “The fact that Literacy Kits are getting those tools in the hands of children who are coming from financially strapped families is making a huge difference,” Beth shares.
Those families Beth mentions must make hard decisions about where to spend their money; often times they have nothing left in the budget after covering their basic needs like rent, food and transportation. Without access to Literacy Kits, many children in our community would not have books of their own at home, something that is detrimental to learning. According to a National Institute of Literacy report, foundational reading and writing skills that develop from birth to age five have a clear and consistently strong relationship with later conventional literacy skills.
It’s proven that early literacy skills set children up for success later in life. Young children who enter school struggling to read are four times more likely to drop out of high school, lowering their earning power as adults and minimizing their ability to be self-sufficient. When armed with Literacy Kits, families have the tools and supplies they need to enable children’s early literacy skills, setting them up for lifelong success.
Beth is grateful for the resources United Way provides to not only Gray, but children throughout our community. She knows first-hand how it can open doors for family engagement and spark children’s interest in reading. “That little box of stuff made a huge difference,” says Beth. “We changed the entire set up of his room just to accommodate that desk, all because of that Literacy Kit. I think it is really setting kids up not only for literacy but for writing as well — it is really setting them up for success.”
If you’re interested in providing families in our community with Literacy Kits, host a Literacy Kit build! Contact our volunteer center to set up a Literacy Kit build with your employer, business or organization to provide these resources to families throughout Central Indiana. The kits will go to local early education providers, then are sent home to families to spark conversation, comprehension and creativity.