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United Way’s “Read Aloud 15 MINUTES” Campaign Promotes Early Literacy by Combating “Summer Slide”

For many low-income Orange County students, award-winning campaign is vital to maintaining reading skills gained during school year

Irvine, CA – For too many students in the Capistrano Unified School District, 67 days is the span of time they will spend during their summer break not reading. For most Garden Grove students, it’s 70 days.

This is the problem facing students, parents and educators nationwide as the season of sun, fun, picnics and surf also means a lapse in formal education.

For many low-income students lacking resources or the family support system needed to stay sharp over the summer months, this all too often results in diminished skills. It also means time lost for all students and teachers when schools are forced to devote untold numbers of hours early in the school year repeating some of last year’s curriculum.

To help combat this challenge, United Way continues to promote “Read Aloud 15 MINUTES,” as part of our “OC Reads” Initiative, a countywide campaign encouraging kids to read – or be read to – every day throughout the summer as well as the school year.

The main focus of the two year-old program in Orange County is to get kids and their parents to read early in their lives. This is accomplished through partnerships with local school districts, afterschool programs, family resource centers, libraries, pediatric offices and many other agencies that share United Way’s commitment to early grade reading and demonstrated ability to enhance child literacy.

Key to this effort is continued reading throughout the summer months and preventing a “summer slide.”

“Study after study shows that students from low-income families fall significantly behind in reading skills and other factors,” explained Sergio Contreras, Orange County United Way’s Senior Manager, Education.

Contreras, proud that United Way is one of five recipients of the national “Read Aloud 15 MINUTES” campaign’s Community Outreach Champion Award, continued: “By encouraging reading and providing age appropriate books and other reading materials for students who otherwise would not have those resources, we can prevent the loss of up to two months of reading skills.”

“OC Reads” Countywide Collaborative Committed to Early Grade Reading

Along with local school districts, partners in the OC Reads collaborative include various Orange County Boys & Girls Clubs, Family Resource Centers and libraries providing after-school and summer programs. This includes the Boys and Girls Club of Santa Ana.

“We’re incredibly grateful for the support of United Way through their OC Reads collaborative,” said Robert Santana, Chief Executive Officer of Boys and Girls Club of Santa Ana. “We appreciate the many ways it allows us to keep kids’ reading skills sharp and ready to start school in the fall while also enjoying summer fun.”

OC Reads has launched several initiatives and programs geared toward promoting early grade literacy, including:

  • Read Aloud 15 MINUTES campaign, encouraging parents and caregivers to read aloud to their children at least 15 minutes every day.
  • TutorMate program, launched in Fall 2015, which enables volunteers to read with Santa Ana first-grade students once a week throughout the school year via telephone and Internet.
  • “K-3 Read & Succeed” grants to support innovative programs to enhance early grade literacy (kindergarten through 3rd grade) in high priority populations of students receiving free and reduced lunch (60% or more).
  • Second Annual “Read Across Orange County” event during “Read Across America” week, which volunteers read classic Dr. Seuss books at schools throughout Orange County on or around the author’s birthday in March.
  • Champions for Children’s Literacy Collaborative promotes early literacy and early grade reading in Orange County. The “Champions” vision is for all Orange County children to be reading at grade level by 3rd grade. Participants include the Commission, Orange County United Way and the Women’s Philanthropy Fund, Orange County Department of Education, CalOptima, THINK Together and others.
  • Numerous family literacy workshops and events encouraging parent engagement in their children’s reading efforts.

The national Read Aloud 15 MINUTES campaign noted several measurable successes in honoring United Way for developing the collaborative. These include the recruitment of over 167 community partners actively engaged in the effort to promote early grade reading, as well as the collection and distribution of over 3,000 books to Read Aloud partners.

Leaders at the Alden, Michigan-based organization view Orange County United Way’s program as a model for others.

“We hope that their example inspires other community leaders to see what is possible, and change the face of education in the United States,” explained Bob Robbins, executive director of the national Read Aloud program, which partners with over 10,000 local organizations throughout the U.S.

Early Grade Reading Key Milestone on Road to On-time Graduation, Cutting Dropout Rate

OC Reads is a core component of Orange County United Way’s 10-year FACE 2024 communitywide action plan, the Education goal of which is to cut the county’s high school dropout rate in half within the next decade.

Early grade reading is critical to this end, according to Max Gardner, Orange County United Way’s President and CEO: “It’s a known fact that students who read proficiently by the end of third grade are much more likely to graduate on time and lead productive lives. Our goal is to see this happen on a large scale by the year 2024, and with the help of our tremendous partners, I’m confident we’ll make this happen.”

For more information about Orange County United Way’s early grade reading programs and its effort to promote and support summer reading programs, please visit or


Katherine Ransom, Vice President, Marketing and Communications
Orange County United Way 949.263.6176,

Michael Suydam
21Strat 949.981.5008,

Since 1924, Orange County United Way has been working to improve lives and strengthen our community by mobilizing the caring power of Orange County and focusing on the building blocks for a good quality of life: Education, Income, Health and Housing. By investing in Orange County children, families and individuals, we help them create pathways to self-sufficient lives. In short, we help people help themselves. Through our 10-year community-wide action plan, FACE 2024 (an acronym for Fund, Advocate, Collaborate, Educate), we collaborate with local businesses, community organizations, governmental agencies and individuals to make a long-term measurable difference in the lives of local individuals and families. To learn more or to join our movement, visit

To learn more about each of the Community Outreach Champions, please visit the 2016 Champions page at

To learn more about Read Aloud 15 MINUTES, view their Why A National Campaign?” video.

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