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United Way mission: Raising healthy children (10/02/2013)
From: Beth Forkner Moe

Executive Director, United Way of the Greater Winona Area

Our mission at United Way of the Greater Winona Area is to support our families in their efforts to raise healthy, thriving, productive children in our community.

This is why we fund programs at nearly two dozen local organizations that work with families and children, from basic needs (such as food and housing) to educational needs (mentoring and after-school care) to emergency needs (counseling and disaster services). Every year, a committee of volunteers makes sure that the programs we fund prove that they provide needed services and do so effectively. Through allocations to these organizations, United Way makes a difference in our lives and the lives of our friends and neighbors.

A couple of years ago, the United Way Board looked at how we can make the most significant impact on our community and determined that we should address the root cause of why people often turn to our partner agencies. Our research shows that strengthening early childhood education holds the most promise for making significant change in our community.

This is not simply a “feel-good” measure, by any means. Rather, it is tested and proven that investing in early childhood education is a very effective strategy to address a wide range of community challenges.

According to Art Rolnick, an economist formerly at the Federal Reserve Bank in Minneapolis, the moral argument of having children ready for school is not good enough; there is an economic argument as well. He and his colleague, Rob Grunewald, examined several large, longitudinal studies on the effects of having a quality preschool experience. In 2003, they published a paper demonstrating that dollars invested in high-quality preschool education for at-risk, low-income children paid an inflation-adjusted 16 percent return. By comparison, the stock market’s annual inflation-adjusted return since the end of World War II is slightly more than 5 percent.

Research shows that 90% of the brain is developed by age five. What happens in early childhood can matter for a lifetime. Rolnick’s work has shown that if children are ready to enter kindergarten (currently, only about one-half of children are) and can read at grade level by the beginning of 4th grade, they are more likely to:

• Graduate from high school

• Be employed

• Have significantly higher lifetime earnings

• Own their own home

On the other hand, if children are not ready to enter kindergarten and read at grade level by the beginning of 4th grade, they are more likely to:

• Be involved in special education

• Drop out of high school

• Be on public assistance

• Spend some time incarcerated

We decided to expand our programming to add a focus on early childhood learning. But we are NOT “abandoning” our traditional partner agencies. All of them are integral in supporting the families and children in our community. Each provides a service that is needed now but, perhaps in the future, may be less in demand because our children will be more likely to have the resources they require for the life they desire. Children cannot learn if – for example – they do not have a safe place to live, they are hungry, or their families are constantly in conflict and crisis. We continue to support and work with our partners in the important work they do in making this a good place to live, work, play and raise a family.

The Board reached two very simple but important conclusions:

• Investing in early learning has an enormous and positive impact on the community, now and in the future;

• Investing in young children now will pay huge dividends as they grow to become the positive, productive residents of tomorrow.

We need the community’s help to make a significant difference in this very important work. Please make a contribution to United Way of the Greater Winona Area to help make sure our youngest community members are ready to succeed in school and in life.

If you would like more information about our work and how you may help, please call us at 452-4624, email us at unitedway@unitedwaywinona.org, or visit our website at www.unitedwaywinona.org. 


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