Investing in Your Community for the Long Term


 

As a business executive, I have a keen appreciation for how good research, targeted strategies and long-term goals can keep a company focused. Indeed, the insurance industry is especially interested in balancing the short-term needs with long-term results.

In my many years as a donor and a volunteer, and now as the 2008 campaign Chair for United Way, I have seen how a strategic approach can tackle the issues facing Dane County. When we establish goals and maintain our focus on the issues in our community, we can achieve impressive results. It’s this type of strategic thinking that guides the teams of volunteers and partners who ensure that investments of time and money have the greatest impact possible. This approach defines United Way’s work on our community’s Agenda for Change, and it is clearly visible in the Born Learning Initiative, which is working to improve kindergarten readiness throughout Dane County.

A child’s success in school begins long before the first day of class. To be prepared for kindergarten, children need pre-literacy skills. The ability to recognize letters, their sounds and to think abstractly about how printed words create meaning are all essential to children before beginning school.

In addition, children must learn to make and keep friends while developing positive relationships with adults. Children build these skills at home and at child care centers, but many children and parents in Dane County aren’t getting the support they need. The result? In Madison, only 58 percent of children entering kindergarten have age-appropriate skills. United Way’s Born Learning Initiative has set a target of having 75 percent of area children prepared for kindergarten by 2012.

United Way of Dane County and partners are working to help children receive the opportunities they need to start kindergarten with the skills required for success. Consider these figures:

• Children from low-income families are read to far less than their peers in middle-income families.

• Children from literacy-poor homes arrive at school with vocabularies of 800-1000 words, while children from literacy-affluent homes arrive at school with vocabularies of 6,000-10,000 words.

That’s why United Way with our partner agencies is visiting first-time parents in their homes and giving them the tools they need to support their children. United Way is also providing access to a research-based developmental screener, Ages and Stages, so parents and their health care providers can assess their children’s developmental stages. With clear and uniform assessments, parents and doctors can help as soon as a child falls behind. United Way, Children’s Service Society of Wisconsin, Madison schools and Family Enhancement are providing area parents and guardians with the skills to aid children’s educational and social development. United Way’s Mobile Play and Learn is visiting five sites throughout the county, providing educationally enriching play activities for hundreds of area children and providing parents with tools to encourage more learning at home.

We know that for every $1 our community gives toward early education programs like the Born Learning Initiative, we receive $17 back on our investment in lower crime rates, as well as higher individual earnings and educational levels. It doesn’t take a business mind to appreciate that type of return on investment. When we reach children before school begins, we improve their chances of success in school, and that translates to success after high school.

Investing in our community for the long term creates stronger families, better students, and a smarter workforce. Join the thousands of your neighbors and co-workers and live united by contributing to the 2008 United Way Campaign. Give through your workplace campaign, visit unitedwaydanecounty.org, call 246-4351 or send contributions to United Way of Dane County, P.O. Box 7548, Madison WI, 53707-7548.

Jim Riordan is the 2008 United Way Campaign Chair and president & CEO of WPS Health Insurance.

Madison Magazine - November 2008
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