Improving Early Grade Reading Rates

There are proven methods to boost students’ reading skills in the early grades, rooted in strong families, strong schools, and strong communities. United Way of Greater Portland is working with parents, schools, and community partners to increase third grade reading proficiency, a key indicator of not only success in higher grades but of high school graduation. The collaboration includes school superintendents, literacy groups, elected officials, businesses, foundations, and other nonprofits.

Academic Achievement


Employing a wide range of strategies, including mentoring, enrichment activities, homework help and reading partners, United Way-supported agencies provide students with the academic support they need to succeed in school. Additionally, many local youth participate in United Way-supported after-school programs that help build leadership and life skills.

Westbrook Children's Project

The Westbrook Children’s Project is a community-wide collaboration led by Westbrook School Department, City of Westbrook, and United Way of Greater Portland supporting all young people in Westbrook, from cradle to career.

Portland ConnectED

Portland ConnectED aims to build and sustain a citywide culture dedicated to supporting highly effective education for Portland’s youth, for Portland families, and for the Portland community at large. 

Starting Strong

Starting Strong is the early age component of Portland ConnectED, a cradle to career initiative whose goal is that all young people graduate from high school and successfully transition to their next step. With a focus on birth to age 8, Starting Strong’s top priority is to help children reach reading proficiency by the end of 3rd grade, a critical benchmark  in assuring student success.Learn more about how you can get involved.


Raising student achievement requires a community of support, and research proves that caring volunteers working with students of all ages have the power to help kids boost academic achievement and put young people on track. Learn more about how you can get involved.

A Company of Girls

A Company of Girls is a collaborative arts program that works with approximately 40 adolescent girls from ethnically and culturally diverse backgrounds. Girls are provided opportunities through various mediums to increase their life and social skills, enhance their communication skills, and build stronger self-image and self-worth.

Big Brothers & Big Sisters of Southern Maine – Mentoring Program

Big Brothers & Big Sisters of Southern Maine – Mentoring Program works with children ages 6 – 17, primarily through supported one-to-one relationships with caring adults who assist them as they grow to become mature, responsible adults. Volunteers are trained as mentors and matches are monitored by staff. The major goals of the program are to provide at-risk youth with positive role models, mentors, and friends who can help them realize their potential.

Boys & Girls Clubs Programs

Boys & Girls Clubs

  • Individual & Group Services: The personal and educational component provides opportunities in career development, enhances educational achievement, develops skills in independent living and goal setting, and offers assistance in resolving personal crises. The citizenship and leadership development component develops leadership skills and provides opportunities for decision-making.
  • Social Development Program: Helps youth enhance their self-expression and creativity through visual arts, crafts, performing arts, games and library arts. Helps youth get along with others, make new friends and learn to use leisure time constructively.
  • Physical Education Program: Helps youth achieve and maintain fitness, acquire physical skills, and learn teamwork, cooperation and fairness. The outdoor and environmental education core helps youth to develop an awareness and appreciation of a variety of settings. It also promotes wise use of natural resources and develops living and survival skills.
  • Riverton Park Clubhouse: The full range of B&G Clubs programming provided for youth in Portland’s Riverton community.

Cumberland County YMCA

Cumberland County YMCA

  • Aquatics Program provides learning activities to school-age children through swimming.
  • Otter Pond Day Camp, located in Standish, this program serves children aged 6-14, 30% of whom are subsidized. Acts as summer day care, providing recreational opportunities for youth.
  • Sports and Recreation Program provides learning activities to school-age children through sports.
  • School Age Child Care provides learning activities to school-age children before and after school and throughout the summer. Activities include arts and crafts, swimming and sports. Provides services both on-site and in neighborhood communities.

Attendance Rates

School attendance is essential to academic success. Chronic absenteeism— missing just 18 days per school year — can result in third graders unable to master reading. UWGP funds and helps to guide Count ME In, an initiative working to inform the community about the importance of school day attendance and to help schools identify students with attendance issues and get them back in the classroom and learning.


“The bottom line is that if we don’t get dramatically more children on track as proficient readers, the United States will lose a growing and essential proportion of its human capital to poverty, and the price will be paid not only by individual children and families, but by the entire country.” –Early Warning: Why Reading by the End of Third Grade Matters; Annie E. Casey Foundation, 2010

Summer Learning Loss


Research shows that children can lose as much as three months of reading comprehension skills during the summer. Over multiple summers, this loss can lead to students being years behind peers who have access to summer enrichment.  United Way-supported agencies and community impact initiatives are working to increase the quality of and access to summer enrichment for children and youth.

Feeding Bodies and Minds

Feeding Bodies and Minds is a community-wide collaboration that combines summer meals and summer learning for kids at neighborhood sites across the city. Enrichment activities include science experiments, reading, art projects, gardening, recreation, dance and more. Feeding Bodies and Minds is a collaborative initiative of Healthy Portland (a local Healthy Maine Partnership based out of the City of Portland’s Public Health Division), Preble Street Maine Hunger Initiative, 211 Maine, USDA Summer Meal Program, and an array of Portland ConnectED partners, including Portland Public Schools and The Opportunity Alliance.

Starting Strong Summer Reading

Starting Strong provides literacy training to volunteers who read with children at free summer lunch sites and give them a book to take home each week. The summer-long reading program targeting pre-k through grade 3 children is designed to maintain or improve reading level over the summer.  The book giveaway allows children to build a small home library and practice reading skills at home with their families. Starting Strong is the early age component of Portland ConnectED and a Campaign for Grade Level Reading site.

Westbrook READS

Maintaining academic gains throughout the summer months is critical to student success. In 2013 the Westbrook School Department, the Walker Memorial Library, the Westbrook Literacy for ME initiative, and United Way of Greater Portland established Westbrook READS, a city-wide summer reading challenge to engage students, teachers, parents, and community members to read over the summer. In 2013, approximately 45% of students participated and more children maintained their levels of academic progress over the summer of 2013 than in past summers. This year our goal is to have the community read 25,000 hours.

Get Involved!

Remember that feeling you had when you heard your favorite childhood story or when you read your first book? There is power in the written word – power that carries throughout our lives. Read Peter’s story.