United Way Voices of Hope: America Reads

The following article is one in a series of real-life stories about the impact of United Way of Southeast Mississippi’s nonprofit partners on the local community.


“The kids make it all worth it. “

Janene Myers has been teaching reading to young children for years. Since 2018, she has worked as a tutor for the America Reads Program, a national literacy improvement program offered locally by the Pinebelt Foundation. America Reads is an AmeriCorps program that places qualified tutors at designated school sites to teach children full-time, one-on-one, and in small groups, to help improve children’s reading skills. students.

“I was a teaching assistant several years ago and discovered the program; I knew friends who had already taken the program. That’s what encouraged me to do it, ”said Myers, who teaches at Rowan Elementary School in Hattiesburg. “Basically the tutors are assigned to different school districts in the area, and we work with K-3 students who have difficulty reading, and we just give them that extra help and time in mind- one-on-one outside the classroom. ”

The local America Reads program is one of 180 funds and programs managed by the Pinebelt Foundation and one that Foundation executive director Mike Dixon said is made possible with funding from the United Way of Southeast Mississippi.

“This particular program is one where United Way has been a great help and has partnered with us in supporting us financially so that we can pay for these tutors,” Dixon said.

United Way of Southeast Mississippi funds are allocated to the America Reads program serving the Hattiesburg public school district. The program is further funded through the collaborative efforts of community organizations and local churches to provide nine literacy tutors in four elementary schools: Thames, Hawkins, Rowan and Grace Christian.

“It’s a very simple program, but the funding is what’s really important,” Dixon said. We know how to engage people, we know how to hire them, we know how to get them into schools, but going out there and raising money to do it is just a constant struggle. And, to have Centraide as a partner, it simply gives credit to the program.

“The last time we made the grades for schools – which of course was pre-COVID – four of the five elementary schools in the public school district reached level B, which is the first time we’ve seen this in a long time. . ”

From an educational perspective, Myers said the one-on-one time is a game-changer for students. In the 2018-19 school year, 64% of America Reads students improved their reading skills by at least one grade level. Myers said the bond that has formed between tutors and students goes beyond the classroom.

“Some students don’t even know how to pronounce words, and at the end of the year they say words and read sentences… If things happen at home, we discuss it. I discover their likes and dislikes. So it all works hand in hand, ”Myers said.

She added that it’s motivating to see how far her students have come.

“It’s gratifying because they take three tests a year: the start of year, mid-year and end of year exams,” Myers said. “You can watch the growth. It’s even more special for me because the team I started with here, they started in 2nd year and now this year they are in 5th year. So I got to see them from start to finish now.

She said the program is not only a huge benefit for the students but also for the teachers.

“It is absolutely necessary, because there is a lot about teachers. I know not all teachers are fortunate enough to have a teacher assistant. So with the America Reads program, it’s like extra help, extra push. You can send them with guardians for children who might be released or missed, and they get that extra help, and no child is left behind, ”Myers said.

Meet Thomas

Thomas was a 3rd grade student in the Hattiesburg Public School District. When he first started tutoring through the America Reads program, he was reading below grade. As the Grade 3 reading gate approached, Thomas’s teacher feared he would be held up without further intervention. After a lot of hard work from Thomas and the help of his tutor, Thomas began to score at or above grade level on his benchmark exams.

While this is a success in itself for Thomas, the program has proven another purpose as well. Thomas is the oldest of three siblings living with his mother, and his tutor America Reads was there to serve as a positive male role model. Now Thomas not only reads better, he had fewer behavioral problems while in school.

Stories like Thomas’ explain why Myers said it was worth it. She encouraged her fellow tutors to make sure their hearts are in the work.

“You have to really love work and love children. Build a relationship with the children. It makes your day better, ”Myers said.

To learn more about the Pinebelt Foundation and its other funds and programs like America Reads, visit pinebeltfoundation.org.


The Pinebelt Foundation is an educational partner of United Way of Southeast Mississippi, a local nonprofit organization that works to create positive change in Forrest, Lamar, Marion and Perry counties. By providing funds to partner organizations, Centraide is addressing community issues in the areas of education, economic mobility, health and support services. For more information about United Way and how it helps organizations like RISE, visit unitedwaysems.org.

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