Kathleen Katzenstein was on vacation with her husband—the connection on her phone and computer was in and out, and on several occasions, she was miles offshore in a boat with no connection at all.

But, come Monday, she would make sure she could find a place where she could sit comfortably and come in clear through the video screen. She wasn’t about to miss another opportunity to read to one of the children in United Way of Greater Atlanta’s Monday Reading Program. She loved getting the opportunity to connect with students in the way she had connected with her own children as they were growing up.

“I’ll make sure I’m somewhere with a connection,” she says with a laugh. “I want to be fully there.”

And she has been for much of the past year. The retired attorney from Woodstock took this opportunity to “do something small but significant” to give back to Greater Atlanta during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I loved to read to my kids and grandkids, and so I said, ‘Let’s start here,’” Katzenstein says. “I started with United Way’s reading program, and I was impressed with the criteria they used to select which schools [to read for]. I learned a lot about third-grade reading level and kids learning to read so they can read to learn.”

These virtual volunteer opportunities were an easy way to encourage students to read along and comprehend the words Katzenstein would read to them. We know that if children aren’t strong readers, their opportunities are limited. We must give children the tools they need from the start to give them a chance to become strong learners.

Virtual reading projects were an important way for our volunteers to connect with these children. It helped further United Way’s work to improve the well-being of children in Greater Atlanta’s 13 counties—it helped us do more, together.

About two weeks into March 2020, the United States began shutting down restaurants, bars, gyms and schools in an attempt to stem the spread of the novel coronavirus. The infectious disease, COVID-19, has now infected millions, killed hundreds of thousands and has contributed to mass unemployment across Greater Atlanta and the United States.

The pandemic had already greatly impacted the way we volunteer, but it wouldn’t stop United Way from offering volunteer opportunities.

Volunteering in Greater Atlanta is important work—work that is never over. Throughout the week of June 14 – 19, our volunteers will Unite for Service in more than 40 events with over 1,000 volunteers for the purpose of doing more for our communities.

This work is not uncommon for volunteers like Katzenstein who understand how important it is that we address the immediate needs of the community.

“Flexibility is key!” says United Way Director of Volunteerism Brittany Phouangphet. “Our avid volunteers have been integral in ensuring that all of our projects are successful with their contributions. They heighten the experience for the students of Monday Reading Program by providing them with an opportunity to build rapport with a supportive adult, other than their parents and educators, to share a love for reading and their enthusiasm for learning.”

Community volunteers and corporations are always looking for other avenues and ways to support United Way and provide resources to those they serve, Phouangphet says.

“We are all about meeting our schools and partners where they are—whether that means hosting on asynchronous days, supplementing classroom instruction, or bringing donations to campus,” she says. “Though we can’t be in the buildings, we are there on the big screen in classrooms. Our teachers and leaders have been crucial in helping us drive our new method of making an impact.”

Katzenstein liked how United Way zeroed in on which communities they could provide the most impact through its Child Well-Being map. She said she was excited to do this work for that reason.

“I wanted to make an impact on a kid’s life,” she says. “I have two that I tutor one-on-one for about six hours a week, and I feel like I’m actually going to make a difference in their life. I love the looks on their faces and at a certain point they really start loving to read. I wish everybody could read to a kid once a week.”

If you are looking to volunteer and don’t know where to start, it helps to find something you are passionate about, she says.

“Whatever you get enjoyment out of is important,” Katzenstein says. “You can really make a difference for a day, make someone happier and go even bigger.”

United Way’s Volunteerism team continues to meet the ever-changing needs of the partners and the community as a whole. These virtual projects offer a unique ability to connect with our students and families, Phouangphet says.

“By volunteering, you do not just do good, but you feel good,” Phouangphet says. “You’re providing a valuable contribution of your time and talents to support our community. Now more than ever, meeting the needs of our community members is so important—and easy to do through United Way of Greater Atlanta.”

In order to give back through your time and talents, we must Unite for More. Can children, families and Greater Atlanta communities count on you?

May 5, 2021—United Way of Greater Atlanta, through the support of the Joseph B. Whitehead Foundation, today announces grants totaling $2,546,000 have been awarded to organizations forming the Literacy and Justice for All collaborative. The Literacy and Justice for All collaborative will serve as a model for the region in addressing inequities that face far too many children and families across Greater Atlanta. Learn4Life will provide coordination for the collaborative with support from United Way of Greater Atlanta.

“As United Way of Greater Atlanta works to put our community’s children on an equitable path to fulfilling their potential, investing in efforts that improve educational outcomes for children by addressing the factors beyond school that often get in the way of success is critical. When children are not reading by the 3rd grade, it limits their opportunities in school, in work, and in life. They are four times more likely to drop out of high school. If we want an educated, skilled workforce tomorrow and a competitive edge, we must have strong learners today.” says United Way of Greater Atlanta’s Chief Community Impact Officer, Katrina D. Mitchell.

Third-grade reading proficiency is one of six community-level indicators that Learn4Life has identified as the keys to achieving a cradle-to-career vision of success for every child. Executive Director Kenneth Zeff emphasized the role these partnerships can serve to inform the region, “We are energized by the support for collective impact in our region. Marietta City Schools and its partners are responding to the regional need to redouble our efforts to get all students on track following the pandemic.” The Learn4Life network will use this opportunity to support the partners on this learning journey in Marietta and scale best practices across the region.

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Ending disparities has been the guidepost for United Way of Greater Atlanta’s Child Well-Being Agenda, which has focused on addressing the systemic issues that put Greater Atlanta at the bottom of the list of U.S. cities in terms of opportunity and mobility for low-income children and make a child’s zip code of birth their destiny. For two years running, Bloomberg has called Atlanta “the capital of inequality.”

By August 1, the Literacy and Justice for All collaborative aims to build a comprehensive, cross-sector grant partnership that is designed to effectively reach each child in our communities — from the third trimester of pregnancy through reading proficiency by the end of 3rd grade. Each experience matters during the early years of development – the years in which our children must count on us the most. Every child whose life we change will go on to change the lives of countless other children, families and communities. And when we work together — pooling our resources, time and energy — our community impact grows exponentially to create an equitable future for all. Together, with the help of our partners, we can do more.

A full listing of grantees includes:

Learn4Life – to support the collaborative and shared learning for the region.

Rollins Center for Language and Literacy at the Atlanta Speech School  to provide training and professional development in the areas of healthy brain development, language, literacy and the science of reading across the birth – 8 continuum.

Cobb Collaborative – to support early literacy ambassadors and trauma-informed training.

Kennesaw State University – to support professional development within early childhood education settings throughout the city of Marietta.

Marietta City Schools – to support professional development and resources for K-3 classrooms

Quality Care for Children – to support professional development within early childhood education settings throughout the City of Marietta.

About United Way of Greater Atlanta
United Way of Greater Atlanta, the largest United Way in the nation, focuses on ensuring that every child in Greater Atlanta has the opportunity to reach his or her full potential. The organization invests in more than 200 programs in 13 counties through the Child Well-Being Impact Fund and works to help children succeed in school, improve financial stability of families, provide affordable and accessible healthcare and end homelessness. For more information, visit www.unitedwayatlanta.org.