New United Way Campaign Chairs Discuss Group’s Impact On Children
As Scott Lynett scooped ice cream during a party for Kistler Elementary School students in September, child after child boasted about the books they read over the summer.
The party rewarded the children for taking part in a United Way of Wyoming Valley program that challenged them to read seven books while school was out of session to avoid summer learning loss.
“These kids were so excited. I was standing there trying to scoop ice cream and they were coming up saying I read this book and I read this book. And their eyes were shining,” Lynett said. “To see kids like that get so excited about reading, that’s when you know you are touching a kid’s life and that’s when you know the programs are having the impact you want them to have.”
The experience left a profound impact on Lynett and made him confident in the mission he’s trying to promote.
That mission is the local United Way’s new primary focus on tackling childhood poverty.
Lynett, former publisher of The Citizens’ Voice and a shareholder in its parent company, Times-Shamrock Communications, is a co-chair of this year’s United Way fund drive.
He and fellow co-chair, Tara Mugford Wilson, president of the Power Engineering Corporation in Plains Twp., are busy spreading the word about the United Way’s vital impact in the community and trying to raise money.
They are also reminding area residents of the United Way’s mission change to focus solely on early childhood development. They hope that could convince people to contribute that were hesitant in the past.
Wilson was one of those people.
She said she admired the United Way’s work in the past when it primarily funded local social service agencies, but she preferred to work with charities that focused on women and children.
When the local United Way shifted its focus to children several years ago, several board members approached Wilson to help.
She was all in.
“In our area, it was a game changer,” Wilson said. “Our goal is to educate children and break the cycle of poverty. We can continue to ignore it or we could tackle it.”
Under the United Way’s broader past model, the organization’s dollars would often intercede later in one’s life, like supporting a food pantry.
“Twenty years after the damage was done, you’re trying to undo the damage,” Lynett said. “We figured, let’s start at the root cause of where it all begins.”
Helping children learn to read at their age level early in life is crucial, United Way officials say. A common saying in the organization is that until third grade you learn to read and afterward you read to learn.
Five years into the new model, early indicators are showing signs of improvement with graduation rates going up and childhood poverty going down, Lynett said.
“We are involving the whole family,” Wilson said. “That’s the goal, not to have people to continue to need the safety net.”
Contact the writer:
ON THE WEB:
United Way of Wyoming Valley
100 N. Pennsylvania Ave., 2nd Floor
Wilkes-Barre, PA 18701