Youth Board Allows Students to Have Direct Impact in the Community

We have all heard of school student council, but at United Way of San Luis Obispo County we have a program where students can help influence the entire county, not just their school.  It is called Youth Board, and it is a unique volunteer experience for local high school students.

Every school year United Way selects 35 high school aged students to serve as a United Way Board of Directors and give them the opportunity to make a direct impact on their peers by addressing the needs of their community and awarding grants to local organizations.  Each month, students from across the county meet to learn about SLO County and discuss community issues.

At the end of the year, the board awards three $1,000 grants to local organizations that are making a difference.  United Way Youth Board accepts applications for $1,000 grant awards to local groups that have created projects having a positive impact on youth (up to age 19). All applications are peer reviewed by members of the Youth Board, our group of high school students seeking to increase philanthropy and leadership in San Luis Obispo County youth, and improve programs to better serve our community. 2015 grants were awarded to Restorative Partners’ Juvenile Hall Project, Lewis Middle School 7th Grade Envirotech Class/One Cool Earth, and Transitions-Mental Health Association.

Members of the Youth Board represent the youth of the community, connect with community leaders and provide feedback about youth issues.  They also participate in United Way projects and events, run fundraising campaigns, and learn about the community and other local nonprofit organizations.

Each year the Board elects members  to hold various executive positions on the board.  They elect a President, Vice-President, Secretary, Treasurer and a Director at Large.  The president of the year’s board is AnnaSara Bridgeford, a senior at San Luis Obispo high school.  AnnaSara has been a part of Youth Board since she was a Freshman. AnnaSara’s older brother JohnAugust was the very first Youth Board President, and seeing his positive experience made her want to be a part of the program as well.  When asked what her favorite part of being on the Board is, AnnaSara said “I am grateful for the voice that Youth Board has provided me with. They have helped me realize that even though I am young my ideas and opinions have value and the power to create the change I want to see in my community.”  She also wants students that might be interested in doing the Youth Board to know “If you have interest in voicing your ideas and collaborating to figure out how to positively impact our community then I highly advise you to apply to join the board.  It is a great opportunity and looks fabulous on college apps!”

United Way of San Luis Obispo is now accepting applications for the 2015-16 Youth Board.  The deadline for applications is September 11. Participating students are required to commit to at least one full term (September through May), and may miss up to six meetings. For more information on Youth Board or to download an application visit our website.

Written by: Lindsey Rapone

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United Way Collects School Supplies During Stuff the Bus

It’s almost time for thousands of kids on the Central Coast to head back to school.  This is always an exciting and anxious time for children. What will their new teacher be like?  Will they have friends in class with them? What are they going to learn this year? What school supplies do they need?  This last question can be especially stressful for many families that may not be able to afford the supplies their children need. According to an article published recently by Yahoo Parenting, the cost of school supplies have gone up 85% in the last 8 years, and will cost more this year than ever before.

At United Way of SLO County, we understand how important it is for children to have the tools they need for school. That is why we started Stuff the Bus seven years ago.  During this weeklong event, we park large yellow school buses at various locations throughout the county.  Businesses and individual community members are encouraged to literally stuff the buses with all kinds of essential school supplies.  We collect backpacks, notebooks, pencils, pens and all of the other supplies children need to go back to school feeling prepared and confident.

Local businesses, including Etna Interactive, MindBody, Sierra Vista Regional Medical Center and Zurn, also create their own mini donations sites.  Companies get creative, designing their own collection areas, and ask employees and customers to drop off supplies.  Then during the week of the event, they bring the supplies to one of the buses.

In 2014, we collected over $31,000 in supplies.  This year we hope to surpass that goal, and help even more local children.  We couldn’t make this event possible without the wonderful community members that volunteer their time.  Volunteers work at the buses, collecting and organizing supplies.  They also hand out flyers in front of the businesses, encouraging shoppers to buy an extra notebook or backpack during their shopping trip.

This years Stuff the Bus takes place from August 17-21.  The buses will be parked in front of Walgreens in Atascadero, Wal Mart in Paso Robles and Arroyo Grande, and Target in San Luis Obispo.  The supplies will be donated to eleven local school districts.  Volunteers are still needed at all four location sites.  For more information on the event, or to sign up to be a volunteer visit our website.

Written by Lindsey Rapone

Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library Helps Kids Love to Read

When I was a kid, I loved getting things in the mail.  I also loved books.  I would beg my mom to take me to the bookstore almost everyday to buy a new one. But as much as she wanted to oblige my request, she just couldn’t afford to buy me books that often.  Books were considered a luxury in my house, and the same is true for many kids on the Central Coast.  At the United Way of San Luis Obispo County, we are trying to make sure more children have access to books.  Five years ago we implemented a program called Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library.  Children that are enrolled receive a brand-new book in the mail every month from birth until they are five years old.  When I was a kid, the only thing that would have been better than getting a new book, would be receiving one in the mail.

The program was started in 1996 by the famous country singer Dolly Parton, who was inspired by her dad’s illiteracy.  She understood that teaching a child to read is only the first step. Helping a child develop a love for reading is important to help build a strong educational background.  And at the United Way, we couldn’t agree more.

One of the main focuses of the United Way is education, and literacy is a huge part of that.  Studies show that if a child can read at grade level by the time she or he is in fourth grade, they increase their chances of succeeding in middle school and graduating on time from high school.

The program costs only $50 a year and a child can receive up to 60 books. The books grow with the child, from the first book they receive “The Little Engine That Could”, to the last book, “Look Out Kindergarten Here I Come”.  Our goal is to get children excited about reading, and to help bring families closer by reading together. The program helps children build a personal library before they start kindergarten.

Since we started the program in 2010 we have sponsored more than 255 children.  Sponsorships are provided by donations from supporters in the community. We have a waiting list for families wanting to join the program, but parents can also pay the fee for the program and bypass the waiting list.  At the beginning of this year we started a raffle for new moms who give birth at Sierra Vista Regional Medical Center. They can enter into a drawing to win five years of books for their newborn.  We recently picked the name of our 7th lucky winner in the raffle.

The Dolly Parton Imagination Library as a whole has donated over 25 million books nationwide, since its inception in 1996.  United Way of San Luis Obispo County is currently sponsoring over 100 children.  We would love to continue to grow that number, and help even more local children get a jump start on their education and fall in love with reading; with the help of our community we can do that! For more information about the program or to become a donor visit our website.

Written by Lindsey Rapone

Kidspree 2015

kidspree Collage-2Imagine staring a new school year with no backpack and the same tattered clothes you wore the year before. This is the reality for hundreds of children on the Central Coast.  At the United Way of San Luis Obispo County, we believe that no child should face this dilemma. That’s why we started our Kidspree event 19 years ago.

This program, which takes place during the end of summer, allows children in need to go on a shopping spree and pick out the clothes and other items they need for the upcoming school year.  With the help of the community and caring volunteers, these children are able to feel prepared and confident when it’s time to go back to school.

This year we are working in partnership with Kohl’s, and have set the event for Sunday, August 2 at both the Paso Robles and San Luis Obispo Kohl’s stores.  “”Caring KidSpree volunteers are helping youth achieve their potential through increased self-confidence. Showing each child that a positive adult wants to spend time with them and help them succeed is vital in their success.  The positive impact on each child is evident through their smiles,” said United Way of SLO County CEO, Rick London. “It’s a very rewarding morning, whether you are receiving new school clothes or volunteering your time.” In 2014, we were able to provide 250 children with this invaluable experience. United Way’s goal this year is to surpass that number, and be able to help even more Central Coast children.  Donations of any amount are accepted in order to provide incoming K-12 students with a $100 gift card to Kohl’s in Paso Robles or San Luis Obispo.

Children chosen to participate in KidSpree are paired with an adult volunteer, who assists them in shopping for the items they most want and need.  All volunteers are required to be fingerprinted by July 17th in order to shop with a child; additional volunteers are needed to help with event set-up and check-in.  Kohl’s offers numerous discounted items as well as no sales tax during KidSpree, and children are able to shop in privacy before the store opens to the general public.

United Way is partnering with local nonprofit agencies that nominate the children for participation and the San Luis Obispo County YMCA is screening volunteers by offering fingerprinting.

For more information on the event, or to volunteer or donate visit our website http://www.unitedwayslo.org/kidspree.

Personal Finance 101

Ryan Caldwell 10.9.12Do you want valuable information and free food? This summer, United Way of San Luis Obispo County is hosting two “Money Talks” workshops for young adults ages 16-22. Come join us for a free lunch and crucial financial advice!

Now is a perfect time to start thinking about your finances. Nearly half of all of American families spend more than they make, and even more are saving nothing for retirement.  What’s worse is that money stress destroys relationships and is harmful to our health!  Education about debt, investing, credit scores, and budgeting is more important than ever – and these vital topics aren’t taught by most schools.

At United Way of San Luis Obispo County, we believe that financial literacy should be taught from a young age. Financial knowledge is an important building block for a person’s future success, and we are dedicated to instilling this knowledge in our youth.

We have teamed up with financial professionals to bring the “Money Talks” program to teens and young adults in SLO county.  The “Money Talks” program was started by the University of California Cooperative Extension. It was created to improve the economic well-being of youth in America.  The program is usually 5 class sessions, but this summer Mr. Ryan Caldwell from Wacker Wealth Partners will be teaching Personal Finance 101, a condensed two hour version of the material.

This fun, interactive class will focus on the most critical aspects of financial literacy for young adults: the emotion behind financial decisions, the mechanics of building and maintaining a good credit score, various forms of debt and how to stay out of trouble, basics of taxes, goal setting, saving, and investing.

Teaching young adults about their money personality – the set of ideas that govern spending, giving, and investment decisions – is a pivotal step in securing a strong financial future.  Knowing their money personalities early on helps young adults understand what motivates their financial behavior, and allows them to make meaningful and lasting changes to create the financial future they want.

The teens and young adults will also learn about the importance of setting realistic and attainable money goals.  One helpful strategy they will learn is to pay themselves first, establishing the habit of setting aside money into savings before paying bills or buying groceries.

We will illustrate how starting a savings plan early has a profound impact on one’s ability to save towards long-term goals because time and compounding do some of the work for you!  The class will also focus on the basics of using credit cards, bank accounts, investing, debt management, and credit reports.  Understanding these basic financial concepts from a young age will allow the young adults to make wise financial decisions now and in the future.

There will be two Personal Finance 101 classes this summer: July 27 and August 21, both from 11:00 a.m. – 1:30 p.m.  The workshops are free and lunch will be provided.  Registration is required.

For more information or to register, visit our website, or call Rachel Cementina at (805) 541-1234. These workshops will be an invaluable experience for young adults ages 16-22.

Article written by: Lindsey Rapone