Yolo residents improving reading, health, financial literacy through United Way programs
The Davis Enterprise (California; IDA)
By: Kristin Thebaud
December 11, 2012
Three projects funded by United Way's California Capital Region are making significant differences in the lives of hundreds of Yolo County residents, president and CEO Steve Heath said at a recent town hall meeting in Woodland.
"We are working with several partner nonprofits to produce measurable results on issues of vital importance to Yolo County and the regional community as a whole," Heath said. Sacramento-based United Way California Capital Region serves Yolo, Sacramento, Amador, El Dorado and Placer counties.
Heath noted the high school dropout rate in Yolo County is nearly 17 percent. The group created its STAR Readers project to improve early grade reading, a key indicator of whether a child will later graduate from high school. In Yolo County, 43 percent of children do not achieve proficiency on the STAR test schools administer at the end of third grade.
In Yolo County, STAR Readers works with Yolo County Children's Alliance and the Davis Bridge Foundation to provide instruction for 180 kindergarten through third-graders. All of the participants had tested well below grade level before starting the program. Now, 27 percent of those students who had previously struggled are rapidly progressing toward proficiency.
"Our goal is to significantly increase the number of kids who are proficient and thus, ultimately improve high school graduation rates dramatically," Heath said. "And that's just one example of the projects we fund -- projects that produce measurable outcomes. That's why we're holding town hall meetings throughout the region so people who give to United Way can see the great results from their gifts."
United Way California Capital Region also is focused on obesity reduction, noting that more than 25 percent of Yolo County residents are considered obese.
"The potential ramifications of those rates are staggering, not just for people struggling with obesity, but for all of us," Heath said.
"We think the key to reducing obesity rates is to form and reinforce healthy lifestyles, and that's what our Fit Kids project is working on."
In Yolo County, United Way is funding West Sacramento-based Health Education Council, which in turn is partnering with the Yolo Family Resource Center to provide healthy eating and active lifestyle programs for kids in Woodland and Knights Landing. Using an assessment tool called the Fitnessgram, the team establishes a baseline on pulmonary capacity, body mass index and more. In the first year of the program, 88 percent of participants improved performance in at least one of the six Fitnessgram domains.
United Way's third focus area is household financial stability. Even before the recession, 30 percent of households in the region, and 33 percent of Yolo County households, were financially unstable, spending 40 percent or more of their income on housing alone.
"We believe that one of the key things missing for people these days is financial literacy," Heath said. "If people don't understand or know how to participate in our economic system, they will struggle. Our $en$e-Ability project is providing knowledge and skills to more than 300 Yolo County residents through our grant to Yolo Family Resource Center."
Participants in the project are making progress by creating savings accounts and preparing to be self-sufficient. The $en$e-Ability project also works with 183 foster youths throughout the five-county region who are about to age out of the system. As they go through the educational process, they earn credits toward individual development accounts -- matched savings accounts.
Savings can be used to pay college tuition or buy a computer, car and more.
United Way California Capital Region is investing approximately $143,000 in the three projects in Yolo County, in addition to the $145,000 it raised for Yolo County nonprofits from residents and businesses located in the county in 2011-2012, and the $91,000 it raised in other counties for Yolo County nonprofits.
"We would like to be able to expand that because there are certainly more people in Yolo County who could benefit from these projects," Heath said. "And I am confident that over time, that will happen as people learn more about the high-quality results we're achieving. But in the meantime, we wanted to report back to our supporters -- Yolo County's donors, nonprofits and volunteers who helped formulate, develop and fund these projects. We conducted town hall meetings here during our regional needs assessment. We thought it was time to conduct town hall meetings again -- this time to share the results and say thanks."
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