On May 16, the newly-formed Women United held a get-together at Laplace Wine Bar in the Funk Zone for members to get acquainted with each other and with guests, including area educators. An all-volunteer group of women that is part of United Way of Santa Barbara County, Women United seeks to raise funds and advocate for United Way’s highly successful early childhood educational programs.
The organization was formed earlier this year and has a very talented leadership team: Chair Susan Hersberger, Susan Hanna, Andria Kahmann, Julie Karbula, Val Montgomery, Amber Ortiz, Maryan Schall, and Tamara Skov. There are more than 40 founding members, including many prominent community leaders and philanthropists.
The focus of Women United is on United Way’s Kindergarten Success Institutes (KSIs) and its Power Reading Program. KSIs seek to reduce the high number of kids who begin kindergarten without adequate skills and often don’t catch up with their more prepared classmates. The Power Reading Program seeks to improve reading skills.
According to Chair Susan Hersberger, during Women United’s first year there will be activities for members to become better educated about the key issues of school readiness and early childhood reading, including site visits to see the programs in action. Members and potential members will learn about United Way’s programs as well as other educational initiatives and what the ongoing needs are for closing achievement gaps. The organization will have fundraising events and social mixers too. The only requirement for membership is a $1,500 annual donation, but there will be plenty of additional opportunities for those wanting to become involved.
Hersberger wanted to help form Women United because of the proven success of United Way’s programs and her belief that women in Santa Barbara, as in the rest of the world, are a powerful philanthropic force who can make a difference in this critically important area.
Kindergarten Success Institutes teach social, language, and motor skills and are now in eight locations between Santa Ynez and Carpinteria, including four in the city of Santa Barbara. The main program is a three- to four-week program just before the start of the school year. There is also an intervention program in the spring and fall for those who are struggling. KSIs are a partnership with area schools, with United Way providing all or a portion of the funding at each site, which includes a stipend for teachers. Over the 17-year history of KSIs in Santa Barbara County, participants improved their kindergarten readiness scores by an average of 50%. Last year, the percentage of participants deemed Kindergarten Ready jumped from 32 percent at the start to 90 percent upon completion of the program.
The Power Reading program, in use at more than 35 schools and organizations in the county from kindergarten through college, uses online programs. United Way provides the licensing, training and support. In the Goleta Unified School District, where the program is used at all nine elementary schools, at the start of the last school year, 40 percent of students were reading below grade level compared to only 7 percent at the end of the year. The percentage reading above grade level leapt from 3 percent to 75 percent.
There are Women United groups at more than 160 United Way chapters. Anyone joining the Santa Barbara one by June 30 will be designated a founding member. For more info about Women United in Santa Barbara County, go to unitedwaysb.org/women-united.
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By Gail Arnold