The heart of literacy

Grade-Level Reading efforts come from the heart of volunteers

by Angie Matthiessen, Executive Director – United Way of Charlotte County

As the month of love comes to a close, I reflect on the love I have seen for our community in recent weeks. Volunteer opportunities have been promoted and you have responded!

As the Lead Agency for the Charlotte County Campaign for Grade-Level Reading, United Way of Charlotte County (UWCC) coordinates volunteer events throughout the year to encourage early childhood literacy efforts. Two of the five pillars that we focus on are School Readiness and Family Engagement. (Read about all five pillars at

Our annual Kindergarten Readiness Bag stuffing event is the heartbeat of our School Readiness efforts. In partnership with The Patterson Foundation, the Suncoast Campaign for Grade-Level Reading and Charlotte County Public Schools, preschool-age children in Charlotte County are gifted a bright yellow bag filled with interactive goodies that provoke a love for learning and practice with the basics:  ABCs and 123s.

Assembling and delivering over 1,000 “K Bags” requires an incredible mobilization effort. And the response this year to our request for volunteers was monumental. My heart may have skipped a beat as I watched the room fill with eager community members ready to put educational tools in the hands of our youngest learners. Each bag moved, in assembly line fashion, from empty to full and then into a box headed for a nearby VPK.

As we wrapped up the event, many individuals approached me with enthusiasm for the next volunteer opportunity. The thought of the needs they could help meet through their service to the community really tugged at their heartstrings.

Earlier this year, we partnered with The Patterson Foundation on another event aimed at building a community foundation for early childhood literacy. With collaboration from The Laundry Project and the Suncoast Campaign for Grade-Level Reading, these Pop-Up Neighbor Through Laundry events may appear on the surface as simply free laundry, but they incorporate so much more.

We begin these events with the element of surprise. (They are called pop-up events for a reason!) Families wake up early on a Saturday anticipating a day of drudgery getting their laundry washed while struggling to keep their accompanying children entertained. They are unaware of what is in store for them when they show up, laundry basket and detergent in hand, at the laundromat.

Our team of volunteers shows up with snacks, smiles and laundry cards to ease the expense and boredom of the day. Families are treated to free laundry in addition to positive, engaging conversation aimed at providing information on other relevant community resources.

We engage the children through a variety of literacy tools:  Lizzy the Literacy Bus, Celebrity Readers, activities from Charlotte County Public Libraries and enrollment in the Charlotte County Imagination Library (for the really little ones!). Parents and caregivers are provided tools to engage with their children once the washing, drying and folding are complete for the day.

These pop-up events bring joy, hope and resources to encourage family engagement in not only their child’s reading skills but also the community we live in. Connection to a community is at the heart of student success.

Our volunteers experienced just as much joy as the families we connected with. First time Pop-Up Neighbor volunteer, Keturah Webb, shared about helping families get set up with free laundry, stating, “It was a very fulfilling day.” She added that she loved seeing, “the smile on their face when they knew it was free.”  

Both events took a team effort and are pieces in a larger work to encourage Family Engagement, School Readiness and so much more. I give a heartfelt THANK YOU to every individual who gave to make these foundational works a success in Charlotte County.

If you have a heart for literacy, a heart for giving or a heart for Charlotte County, I encourage you to get connected with volunteer opportunities in our community. Volunteers are needed for tutoring at Charlotte County Public Schools, mentoring at Boys & Girls Clubs of Charlotte County and the YMCA of Southwest Florida and a variety of opportunities exist that directly support UWCC. More information is available at

For more information about United Way of Charlotte County’s mission:  Mobilizing the power of our community to break the cycle of poverty, please contact Angie Matthiessen, Executive Director. She can be reached at