Education: A Key Pillar of UWMC

Research shows that 90 percent of brain development occurs before the age of five, and children who are proficient in reading by the third grade are more likely to succeed in school and life. Children who have physical, emotional, and social trauma in their lives are less likely to succeed. United Way of Marion County’s Educational Vision Council addresses the building blocks of life.

The average college graduate or an individual with certification expertise earns $36,000 more per year than a high school drop-out and is half as likely to live in poverty.

United Way of Marion County adopted education as one of the pillars necessary for kids in Marion County to succeed in life and enhance the excellence of our future workforce. The building blocks of life include access to quality health and nutrition, financial stability, and literacy. Reading Pals, Strong Families, the Community School at College Park, and funded agency programs come together to create a better community.


1. Why is education one of the three pillars of the UWMC?

Michael’s jeans hit his ankles and his stained shirt was enough to elicit snickers from most of the third graders in the class. The 10-year-old boy slumped in his chair wishing he was invisible. His tooth ached and his head hurt. “Joey, for the third time I am asking you to answer the math problem,” his teacher scolded. The young boy had only one answer as he flung his math book across the room, “School is stupid, and I hate it.”

For so many kids focusing on their schoolwork is impossible if they are hungry, have medical/mental needs, or just need clean clothes that fit.  Education is a United Way pillar because it is a building block for quality of life and a strong community.  When kids’ needs are met, they can come to school prepared to learn. United Way makes sure children and youth can start school ready to succeed, become proficient readers at a young age, stay on track in middle school, earn their high school diploma and pursue additional school or training that leads to a lasting career.


2. What impact does the UWMC have on education of Marion County youth?

UWMC is committed to meeting the needs of Marion County’s youth.  Nearly 50% of Marion County’s third graders attending public school are reading below grade level. This puts these students at a distinct disadvantage throughout their academic careers. These children are four times more likely to drop out of high school if they continue this path.  Three internal United Way programs help impact students.

United Way of Marion County’s ReadingPals program impacts the youth that they serve by strengthening the student’s literacy foundation. This early literacy initiative operates in 15 Florida communities and provides volunteer mentors for students from voluntary prekindergarten to 3rd grade who may need extra help, utilizing one-on-one or small group settings.  Locally, ReadingPals partners with Marion County Public Schools to provide ReadingPals in kindergarten classrooms. Volunteers donate one hour a week during the year in 16 elementary schools across the county. This strengthening is extended to the home setting as a book is given each week to the student for their library. Each book has questions in the back that focuses on comprehension and social-emotional learning.  ReadingPals serves 10% of the district kindergarteners through the mobilization of 213 volunteers.

Another internal program is The College Park Partnership School which was born out of Education Vision Council discussions.  This comprehensive model of a community school leverages the social and institutional capital of partners, making it possible for the school to offer resources and services that address the needs of students and their families. The goal is to remove barriers to learning and provide built-in support so students can achieve academic success and lifelong prosperity.  Our goals include school readiness, student academic success, physical social and emotional health and parent and community engagement. Currently, we are providing extracurricular activities after school that make learning fun. We do art projects, science experiments and sports that instill a love of learning. When we engage students and parents’ afterschool, we strengthen the family and engage them in the learning process. We offer wrap around services like vision, medical and dental screenings. Families and those in the community are also invited to have their taxes prepared free on site through United Way’s VITA program.

Another UWMC initiative impacting the community is Success By 6. This is a community-wide initiative of United Way of Marion County, focused on bringing together volunteers and resources from business, government, non-profits, and the community to increase the awareness of the needs of children, ages birth to six, and their families. The vision of Success By 6 of Marion County is to create a community where all children, by the age of six, have an educational, physical, social awareness.  The Early Learning Coalition of Marion County serves as the lead agency for Success By 6 in partnership with the United Way of Marion County. This unique partnership, created in 2005, was a first in the United States for Success By 6.

In Marion County, Success By 6 provides an array of services and resources for parents including:

  • Parenting Seminars
  • Resources and Information on a Safe Sleeping Environment for babies
  • Information on Childcare, VPK and Kindergarten Readiness
  • Car Seat Safety Education Program (Free car seats & booster seats are given to parents in need)
  • Baby Diaper Assistance Program (Success By 6 in partnership with Publix Supermarket has collected over 170,000 diapers to help homeless and low-income families in our community with such an important need for their babies)


3. What are the target issues related to education?

The target issues related to education are:

  1. Children develop positive language and literacy skills in early education to enable them to have continued academic success
  2. Support area youth by reducing environmental barriers that limit their academic success


4. What is the Education Vision Council and what has the council accomplished?

The Education Vision Council is a body of community stakeholders, leadership, decision makers, educators, parents, youth. This is a volunteer body that seeks to carry out the work of the United Way of Marion County related to the identified target issues.  The Vision Council develops objectives and strategies to address the defined vision and target issues, sets resource development goals identifying needed revenue, makes funding decisions and monitors progress toward identified objectives.

Vision Council Members, assisted by the Vision Council Chair and Vice Chair as well as United Way staff, carry out the following responsibilities:

  • Identify objectives and implement strategies that address the defined visions and target issues.
  • Establish and implement a measurement plan for the identified community outcome.
  • Develop and implement a resource plan to secure financial, human, and in-kind resources required to support recommended strategies of the Vision Council.
  • Identify and articulate the community changes happening because of the United Way’s activities. This may include:
  • Developing short and long-term plans designed to address the desired objectives.
  • Participating in advocacy and public policy activities related to the identified target issues.
  • Promoting and supporting multi-system collaboration that works toward the desired results.
  • Providing technical support and training to United Way funding recipients and other community members.
  • Developing funding and grant opportunities.

The vision council’s work has resulted in 21 agencies receiving funding that impact our community in health, education, and financial stability. Projects and programs like the College Park Community Partnership School were a direct result of the council seeing a need, discussing strategies to address the need and then implementing the solution.


5. How can someone get involved with the Vision Council?

Those interested in becoming a vision council member can contact Beth Nelson at or by calling 352-732-9696.