First 5 Lex Partner Spotlight: United Way of the Bluegrass
As a part of our new blog series to show appreciation for our First 5 Lex community partners and supporters, we are excited to TALK with Katie Williams, Vice President of Marketing and Communications for United Way of the Bluegrass (UWBG).
United Way of the Bluegrass’ mission is to fight for the basic needs, education and financial stability of every person in Central Kentucky. In doing this, they offer a myriad of services to central Kentuckians. To learn more about UWBG and what they provide to individuals and families across the Bluegrass, click here.
Let’s learn more about the United Way of the Bluegrass in our question and answer session with Katie!
What is UWBG’s mission?
Our mission is to fight for the basic needs, education and financial stability of every person in Central Kentucky. Really, we just want to empower individuals and families to live their best lives. The more kids that succeed and the more families that are financially stable, the more we all win as a community.
How do you put this mission to work in our community?
We put the mission to work through a variety of programs and partnerships we have in place to ensure that more individuals have access to basic needs and supports in the areas of education and financial stability. United Way is both a leader and a convener because we run programs that help people along their journey to be more financially stable, but also combine resources from our partners to help complete our work. The whole idea of United Way is that we don’t do this alone. So, our goal is to empower the community to come together and live united toward this mission to help more of our neighbors and friends succeed.
How long has UWBG been a part of the First 5 Community team?
We’ve been a member of First 5 since its inception. United Way was a part of the original team who came together to brainstorm about how we could help shine a light on the importance of early childhood education and bring the community together around this effort.
Why did UWBG decide to partner with First 5 Lex?
Early childhood education is something we’re very passionate about and we believe that public schools are an anchor of our local communities. We’ve partnered with the school district in a variety of ways and have led a variety of initiatives over the years about the importance of early childhood education. The work that we do, our role in the community and our ongoing relationship with Fayette County Public Schools has lent itself to us being a natural partner in this effort.
How does UWBG promote child literacy and learning in the community?
We promote child literacy and learning in a variety of ways, but our Women United affinity group and our Young Leaders Society have been especially involved. Women United has adopted early education as their focus area, and so we have a group of women leaders in the community who are looking for ongoing ways to support local students and encourage early childhood education. Our Young Leaders Society has also stepped up and helped us with our Sweet Dreams project, which helps provide pajamas, books, snacks and hygiene items to preschool and elementary-age students every holiday season.
We also encourage literacy by giving away free books. Throughout the years, we have organized many free book giveaways and have made free books available to local students through our partnership with Scholastic. We also provide funding to a variety of partners in the area of child development and early childhood education. Dollars that are raised through our campaigns are allocated specifically to local partners who are providing those services to some of our youngest students.
Why do you think the First 5 message - to read, talk and play with little ones each day- is so important?
I think the message is important because it breaks it down for any parent, grandparent, babysitter or caregiver in a way that makes sense. The message is simple, but powerful. It gives people the encouragement, education and tools that they need to remember that our biggest impact is simple. You don’t have to be an early childhood education expert or read the latest book to know how you can help your child with their development, vocabulary and speech.
In your opinion, what positive change has First 5 Lex made in the community?
The biggest thing is awareness. I love that the message is getting out there and people are starting to catch on to the Read, Talk, Play message. People now know how to access the information - they can download the app, access a comprehensive website or see First 5’s message in public spaces like health clinics or the grocery store. I think it’s so important that First 5 Lex has been able to shine a light on why the first 5 years are so critical for their long-term success and the success of our community.
How do you hope to continue to partner with First 5 in the future?
We love being a part of this effort. We plan to keep open lines of communication with the school system so we know what’s going on, what’s needed, how the community is responding and how we can help. We want to do whatever we can as an organization to keep the community focused on the importance of early childhood education. Just being at the table allows us to listen, learn and share with the group about different resources we can offer. I love that this group comes together to learn from and partner with each other instead of duplicating what others are doing - this makes us able to leverage all of our resources to make a bigger impact.
Just for fun:
What is your favorite children’s book to READ?
“The Going to Bed Book” by Sandra Boynton. My kids and I read every Sandra Boynton book we can get our hands on. My kids love the rhythmic nature of the writing and the silliness she brings to the table.
If you have an afternoon with nothing scheduled, how would you PLAY?
I like to get out of the house, whether that means getting a cup of coffee with a friend or heading out into nature.
If you could TALK with one person, from the past or present, who would it be, and what would you ask them?
If I could talk to anyone from the past, it would be my father. My father passed away when I was 16. Now that I’m older and have kids of my own, I have a new respect for what it’s like to be a parent and I’d love to be able to talk to him about it.
Thank you to Katie and our friends at United Way of the Bluegrass for working to make a difference in the lives of children in Lexington and beyond!