Unveiling a renewed focus on “uniting for an educated and thriving community” and shining a spotlight on its early children literacy efforts, United Way of Northern Arizona (UWNA) kicked off its annual campaign recently, with a goal of raising $1.8 million to benefit dozens of organizations and programs assisting residents of Coconino, Apache and Navajo counties.
“Through the Community Impact Fund, your support is changing lives for thousands of people in an area larger than the country of Ireland,” UWNA President & CEO Steve Peru told supporters gathered at Little America Hotel for the campaign launch. “Just look at the numbers from the last year alone. As a result of the community’s generosity, a half million pounds of food were distributed to people in need, 11,000 hours of youth mentoring occurred, and almost 10,000 free books were given to children. That’s not to mention services for the elderly, financial counseling for families, income tax preparation services, and so much more.”
Peru said that this year UWNA will focus its efforts and funding on initiatives that align with at least one of three core principals – educational success, financial self-sufficiency, and thriving communities.
Educational success took center stage yesterday as the group featured one of its signature efforts – a partnership with the Dolly Parton Imagination Library to provide a free book every month to children from birth to age 5. The books, delivered straight to the child’s home, help families nurture a culture of literacy. Studies show that being read to or having a small child be able to flip through a book are key behaviors that foster future reading success, Peru noted. UWNA is currently holding a special $45,000 drive for the initiative this year.
It was also announced by the event’s keynote speaker, Arizona Literacy Director Terri Clark of Read On Arizona, that her group has selected Flagstaff to be one of six communities to participate in the Read On Arizona’s Acceleration Zone Project.
Funded in part through the Arizona Community Foundation and Arizona Department of Education Early Childhood Unit, the Acceleration Zone Project will focus on eliminating the literacy gap for economically disadvantaged students in Arizona. In Flagstaff, the project will be coordinated through LAUNCH Flagstaff, which is housed at UWNA.
“We know that age-appropriate literacy in language and mathematics in the early years is fundamental to life-long learning,” said Paul Kulpinski, Partnership Director of LAUNCH Flagstaff. “The partners of LAUNCH Flagstaff also realize that there is a lot of work to do to ensure equitable access to high-quality early learning opportunities for every child. This project will give us the opportunity to access support and resources that will bolster our current work, which is why we are so thrilled to be selected.”
Peru also noted that due to the size of the region and to create more of a local level of engagement, this year’s campaign does not have a chairperson but instead will honor throughout the year champions and companies who rally to raise money, volunteer and advocate on behalf of the United Way.
An excellent example of that, said Peru, is Kinney Construction Services. The company founded by Tim Kinney is taking the lead on funding for the Dolly Parton Imagination Library effort and has pledged more than $45,000 overall to UWNA for this year’s community impact campaign.
“If that’s not enough,” Peru said, “KCS has also increased the number of its employees who have joined our Summit Society to 13.” The Summit Society is composed of donors who give $500 or more to the United Way.