OPINION

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Kim Mack

Partnerships and collaborations are tools for group problem-solving, decision-making and action, and United Way of Story County (UWSC) is a strong proponent of these effective, dynamic groups who get things done in the community.

The mission of UWSC is to be a strategic leader in building countywide partnerships to identify needs and to develop, support and evaluate effective human services, especially in the areas of education, income and health, for our diverse community. A key component of the mission — partnerships — explains how we pool the expertise, talents, energy and resources of many to help collaborate on solving issues. One way UWSC develops partnerships and invests in the community is by leading or participating in several community collaborations.

This column is highlighting these community collaborations throughout the coming months; the summer planning committees are featured this month.

Before 2013, there was only one summer food program in Story County. Held at the Boys & Girls Club, the program served about 100 school-aged children a free, well-balanced meal with milk.

Knowing there was still a greater need to combat hunger, UWSC began conversations with community partners. In August 2012, UWSC convened members of the Nevada community, where the Free and Reduced Lunch rate was 35 percent, to begin discussions about a summer food program. The program became a reality in the summer of 2013 and fed 176 different children. More than 1,000 meals were provided. And the program didn’t just feed children; the effort included enrichment activities to provide children additional learning opportunities during the summer. Since that time, the number of sites providing summer meals has grown to four and the number of meals provided has increased by 211 percent.

UWSC, along with many community partners, formed Ames Reads in 2012 and joined the national Campaign for Grade Level Reading. Our work focuses on improving school attendance, school readiness and out-of-school learning.

To help impact those students who need additional support during summer — a critical time away from school — UWSC works with many community partners to plan and execute summer programs in Ames and Nevada, which includes meals.

Both communities provide meals and enrichment activities for six weeks during the summer. Enrichment activities focus on science, technology, reading, engineering, art and math, with a different theme each summer borrowed from the summer library program. This summer, the theme is “On Your Mark, Get Set, Read!”

Of course, we couldn’t have pulled the programs off without the help of so many partners and volunteers. Last summer the programs had 290 volunteers provide 1,625 hours. Volunteers come from businesses, partner agencies and service clubs (too many organizations to list!). It is a true community effort that positively impacts hundreds of kids!

The momentum is building, and we’re excited to share how we’re moving the needle in this area. We invite you to see that great things happen when we live united. You can give, you can advocate and you can volunteer.

Kim Mack is marketing director of United Way of Story County.