ReadingPals mentors volunteer an hour of reading time a week for 25-30 weeks of the school year in Columbia, Hamilton and Suwannee counties.

LAKE CITY — Many children around the state have never heard a bedtime story. In fact, many of them have never been read to at all. Some never learned their numbers. As a result, they struggle to grasp fundamental concepts from kindergarten up — unless somebody steps in.

With ReadingPals of the United Way, mentors have the chance to step into a child’s life to make a positive and permanent impact. Throughout the school year, ReadingPals sends volunteers to spend one-on-one reading with kindergarten students throughout Columbia, Hamilton and Suwannee counties. ReadingPals is a volunteer –based literacy initiative funded by the Children’s Movement of Florida, servicing 3,000 students around the state and 128 students right here is our area currently. The United Way of Suwannee Valley is one of the 17 United Ways statewide that participates in the program.

Individualized attention and early intervention are critical to early childhood growth. With it, children develop confidence, academic success, and emotional wellbeing when they have a proactive and encouraging adult in their life. ReadingPals emphasizes the importance of early literacy as a foundation for learning; around the state, many children struggle with basic academic concepts because they never learned to read.

ReadingPals mentors don’t have to have an education background. They just need energy, enthusiasm and a heart for children. ReadingPals are paired with struggling students. The volunteer works one-on-one with their assigned student for the length of the program. Books and training materials are provided.

Mentors volunteer at 12 schools in our region. Each mentor is assigned to two students for an hour of reading time a week for 25-30 weeks of the school year (they’ll read to one student for 30 minutes, and to the other for 30 minutes). Anyone interested in signing up should contact They’ll go through a training and a background check before they’re assigned to a child.

The next volunteer training will be held at 9 a.m. on Sept. 11 at the United Way office, 871 SW State Rd 47, Lake City. There will be four additional sessions in the month of September.

United Way of Suwannee Valley fights for the education, health, and financial stability of every person in our community, utilizing volunteers on all levels to advance the common good by identifying unmet community needs and seeking to alleviate those needs through United Way of Suwannee Valley initiatives and the funding of 22 affiliated health and human service agencies.

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