Seven local United Way organizations are partnering with Ballad Health to improve reading proficiency among the youngest of readers in our region. 

The seven organizations include the United Way organizations of Bristol TN/VA, Elizabethton/Carter County, Greene County, Hawkins County, Greater Kingsport, Washington County, TN, and Southwest Virginia. 

The literacy initiatives are supported by a $300,000 investment — $100,000 from United Way, $100,000 from Ballad Health and $100,000 from contributions made by Ballad Health team members. 

William Flanary, superintendent of Washington County, TN Schools attended the press conference and stated, “I cannot imagine a more important initiative than what we’ve undertaken. United Way, Ballad Health and Public Education are having a significant impact on our community with this reading initiative. It’s going to pay dividends immediately and for many years. My 37 years as an educator reinforce the opinion that I have long held: nothing we do is more important than teaching a child to read.”

The seven United Ways are spearheading the following initiatives with Ballad Health’s support:

  • Tutoring and education programs to raise children’s reading level scores in school systems;
  • Training on trauma-informed care for teachers and caregivers;
  • United WE READ, which engages, empowers and equips all children and families using tools and strategies to build a literacy-rich culture;
  • Reading volunteers brought digitally into the classroom through a computer program called Vello; and
  • A region-wide chronic absence initiative offering mini-grants and a regionally focused online attendance toolkit across 17 school districts in Southwest Virginia.

“Our school system values our partnership with United Way. The success of our children begins at an early age but schools cannot do this alone,” said John Ferguson, superintendent of Scott County Schools. “It takes everyone; family, friends and the community. Support from United Way complements the work of our educators, all focused on building a better tomorrow for our children.

Ballad Health also provides B.E.A.R. (Being Engaged to Achieve Reading) Buddies – a program started through the Children’s Resource Center of Niswonger Children’s Hospital. The program pairs volunteer mentors with elementary school students in kindergarten through third grade who are behind their grade level for reading.The student and volunteer mentor meet at once a week, either at their school or the Boys & Girls Club, for an hour and read books provided by B.E.A.R. Buddies, or the students can select titles of interest.

Kristan Ginnings, president and chief executive officer of United Way of Washington County, TN, said, “We are excited about our partnership with Ballad Health, United Way’s in Northeast TN and Southwest VA and our area school systems to help improve reading proficiency. Reading is the most crucial academic skill because it is the foundation for learning, and I believe this partnership will have a huge impact on children in our region.”