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Tackling Literacy Through United Way of Central Iowa's READ to SUCCEED Program


September 8, 2022

15 minutes of reading every day can be the most important minutes of a child’s day.

On Thursday, Sept. 8, the world celebrates International Literacy Day, a day that highlights literacy and raises awareness of the importance of literacy to our society. As an organization that focuses on these elements: Give, Advocate and Volunteer, United Way of Central Iowa continues to work to combat illiteracy through its READ to SUCCEED program, which focuses on ensuring students from kindergarten to third grade learn to read so that they can then read to learn.

Ways to Give

When someone makes a donation to United Way of Central Iowa, those gifts go to advocating and supporting volunteer programs that will improve Greater Des Moines (DSM) in so many ways. Giving back can raise others up so that they, too, can live a healthy life, whether that’s giving through larger donations like corporate donations or smaller scale bake sales. Those dollars go to support initiatives like READ to SUCCEED.

Opportunities for Advocacy

United Way of Central Iowa works to create a better community through its United to Thrive program, advocating for five elements, including essential needs, early childhood success, education success, economic opportunity and health and well-being. Early childhood and education success, specifically, relies on literacy, which is why the READ to SUCCEED program is so important for its participants and the community.

Kids who can’t read by the end of third grade are 4x more likely to drop out of school than their peers.

Volunteer Programs

United Way’s volunteer opportunities extend to a variety of programs that assist with literacy and go on to make a huge impact on the DSM community. Here are three of the programs where volunteers can read to and with students:

  • Book Buddy: A 1:1 reading program pairing adult volunteers with preschoolers. Volunteers read aloud to students once or twice a week for 40 minutes. At the end of the program in May, students get to take the books they’ve read home, too. Listen to this Book Buddy success story.
  • Power Read through Everybody Wins Iowa: A reading program for school-age children where mentors and students read grade-level appropriate books together for 30 minutes.
  • Bright by Text: A texting program for children that offers resources and tips to help with child development through age eight.

Other United Way of Central Iowa programs offer tools and ideas for shaping a child’s life towards success, including through Literacy Kits, 5210, Vision To Learn and Stuff the Bus. Vision To Learn is especially important to the READ to SUCCEED goal. Without the ability to see properly, students struggle unnecessarily with reading. Vision To Learn assists with that problem by providing a screening exam and two free pairs of glasses to students who need them. Watch the video below to find out more about Vision To Learn:


United Way of Central Iowa’s Day of Action is another opportunity for volunteers to accomplish projects within the community. This year’s Day of Action will be held on Tuesday, Sept. 13.

Working with Community Partners

United Way of Central Iowa works with Des Moines Public School community school coordinators on many of the volunteer programs mentioned above, as well as partners outside of DMPS, including West Des Moines Community Schools, Perry and more. While working on various campaigns, United Way of Central Iowa also works to grow volunteer participation through book drives, the literacy kits and backpack drives. And if a company has a new idea of something they’d like to do or collect, United Way of Central Iowa can be the connection to make that happen. The most important thing for volunteers to remember aligns with the organization’s new theme and that is that YOU CAN HELP Central Iowa students read to succeed. The volunteer program is flexible and will find the right spot for its volunteers to make a difference.

Learn more about READ to SUCCEED at unitedwaydm.org/readtosucceed or follow United Way of Central Iowa on Facebook for event information.

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Kate Bennett

Kate Bennett is a community impact author for education with United Way of Central Iowa.