The Gift of Reading to Learn

By Laken Dillow, United Way of Southwest Virginia

During the holiday season, we often find ourselves submerged in the “feel good stories”. The kind of stories where someone goes above and beyond to create a positive change. The stories that seem to appear only in the movies or that you find trending on Facebook.

No, Brandi Ferguson isn’t the star of the newest Christmas Hallmark movie or the latest viral sensation featured on social media. She is something even better – a third grade teacher.

In 2018, United Way of Southwest Virginia joined the Campaign for Grade-Level Reading in efforts to improve reading proficiency, early learning, and early school success for low-income families. Reading proficiency by the end of third grade is a critical milestone, because it marks the transition from “learning to read” to “reading to learn.”

Brandi is working hard to bring grade-level reading proficiency into her classroom, which is why she began giving her students a new book each month.

Brandi’s school is a Title 1 elementary school, meaning at least 40% of the student population comes from low-income households. According to Brandi, “In low-income families, time and money are often scarce, and books may be considered a luxury rather than a necessity. Because of this, many children are disadvantaged when it comes to early exposure to reading.”

Looking to be the star in a holiday “feel good” story similar to Brandi’s?? It’s not too late! Consider getting your organization to partner with us in the Campaign for Grade-Level Reading by creating and distributing Lit Kits. Volunteers will have fun gaining valuable teamwork experience while bringing a book to life for a child in their community.

While creating Lit Kits, volunteers use their creativity to make related games, props or other activities to make reading interactive and fun for everyone.

So, you’re a teacher or an early childcare provider interested in starting a project like this in your own classroom – what do you do?

  • Find sponsors willing to help or create your own Lit Kit team!
  • Get your students hooked – use fun, related props!
  • Make reading books special by presenting them as gifts
  • Get them to read another – introduce a series
  • Incorporate your new books into your lesson plans

According to the Annie E. Casey Foundation, “There are 6.6 million children at an increased risk of dropping out of high school because they can’t read proficiently by the end of third grade.” Thanks to dedicated teachers, volunteers and sponsors like Brandi, we are striving to beat those statistics one third-grader at a time!

Click here to learn more about Lit Kits.


Launched in 2010, the Campaign for Grade-Level Reading is a collaborative effort of funders, nonprofit partners, business leaders, government agencies, states and communities to ensure that many more children from low-income families succeed in school and graduate prepared for college, a career and active citizenship. Since its launch, the GLR Campaign has grown to include more than 380 communities, representing 44 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands and Canada — with 3,900 local organizations and 450 state and local funders (including 185 United Ways). To learn more, visit and follow the movement on Twitter @readingby3rd.

United Way of Southwest Virginia fights for the health, education and financial stability of every person in Southwest Virginia because they are the building blocks for a good quality of life.  Through an initiative-based cradle-to-career approach, United Way of Southwest Virginia is creating sustainable solutions to address the challenges facing tomorrow’s workforce. United Way convenes cross-sector partners to make an impact on the most complex problems in our region. Through collaboration with government, business, nonprofit and individuals, United Way innovates for positive, lasting social change.  With a footprint that covers nearly 20% of the state of Virginia, United Way of Southwest Virginia programs and initiatives serve the counties of Bland, Buchanan, Carroll, Dickenson, Floyd, Giles, Grayson, Lee, Montgomery, Pulaski, Russell, Scott, Smyth, Tazewell, Washington, Wise, and Wythe, and the cities of Bristol, Galax, Norton, and Radford.

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