The START UNITED partnership has delivered a dynamic learning experience for nearly 1,000 children through the generous support of the community. “United Way is in the business of helping kids,” said Darren Bickel, President of the United Way of Kosciusko County. “This summer, kids needed the community to provide a space of learning, healing and safety. START UNITED delivered all of those things.” START UNITED ran from July 20 – August 7 and featured three components; a great learning environment, engagement with volunteers and getting the supplies needed to start the school year.
“We took the traditional summer school plan and threw it away,” said JoElla Hauselman, Warsaw Community Schools Summer Program Coordinator. “This year required new ideas – smaller class sizes, grab & go lunches and a deeper focus on one-on-one learning.” Not every kid was doing all right during the long school closure. The lack of routine had created behavioral challenges, learning loss and a struggle to find a new normal. The kids started over this summer. They began the process of learning again, and consistently interacting with peers. For three weeks, the joy of learning blossomed. This summer saw no children sent home for behavioral issues or discipline problems. Teachers were able to teach, and students were able to learn.
For START UNITED to be a success, volunteers had to be involved. United Way decided to reimagine its Read United initiative. Nearly sixty community members stepped forward to read stories to classrooms via Zoom. “It’s not the usual way our volunteers connect with students, but our motto this year is Find a Way to Make It Work” said Bickel. Stories focused on themes of overcoming fear, inclusion and solving problems together. It was a great outlet for community members who had been sidelined for the last few months. Overall, more than 125 hours of stories were shared with children during the partnership.
Finally, United Way was committed to helping the children leave START UNITED ready for school – that included school supplies. On August 5, over 1,000 Ready-to-Go bags were handed out to children. “We issued a challenge to the community – fill one thousand bags in three weeks and wow- did they respond.” Businesses, churches, hospitals and individuals all helped with the project. Warsaw Community Church provided water bottles and facemasks. Goshen Hospital provided hand sanitizer. Everyone one did something. Volunteers sorted all the donations last week and now Ready-to-Go bags have been distributed to students in Warsaw, Wawasee and Tippecanoe Valley Schools. START UNITED was built on a simple premise – our children need a community that passionately cares. The past few months have been tough. It has challenged our community to rise to the occasion. As a result, there will now be hundreds and hundreds of children that are excited and ready for the first day of school, because the community reached out with compassion.