El Dorado County students show progress with United Way-funded reading programBy: Staff report
Three projects funded by United Way California Capital Region are making significant differences in the lives of hundreds of El Dorado County residents, CEO Steve Heath told a Dec. 11 town hall meeting in Placerville.
“We are working with several partner nonprofits to produce measurable results on issues of vital importance to El Dorado County and the regional community as a whole,” Heath said.
Sacramento-based United Way California Capital Region serves Amador, El Dorado, Placer, Sacramento and Yolo counties.
Heath noted the high school dropout rate in El Dorado County is 11.4 percent. The group created its STAR Readers project to improve early grade reading, a key indicator of whether or not a child will later graduate high school. In El Dorado County, 56 percent of children do not achieve proficiency on the STAR test schools administer at the end of third grade.
In El Dorado County, STAR Readers works with the Boys & Girls Clubs of El Dorado County Western Slope and New Morning Youth and Family Services to provide instruction for 100 kindergarten through third-graders. All of the participants had tested well below grade level before starting the program. Now 58.8 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 21 percent of El Dorado 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.”
United Way is providing grants to several nonprofits outside El Dorado County to provide healthy eating and active lifestyle programs for kids. 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, 65 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 20 percent of El Dorado County households, were financially unstable, spending 40 percent or more of their income on housing.
“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 27 emancipating foster youth in El Dorado County through a second grant to New Morning Youth and Family Services.”
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 $129,000 in two of the three projects in El Dorado County, in addition to the $31,755 it raised for El Dorado County nonprofits from residents and businesses located in the county in 2011-2012, and the $97,245 it raised in other counties for El Dorado County nonprofits.
“We would like to be able to expand that because there are certainly more people in El Dorado 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 – El Dorado 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.”