Mesa Youth Unite is Mesa United Way’s summer AmeriCorps program for young adults between the ages of 18 and 25. Promising young leaders are chosen to work in Mesa non-profits to help build capacity while gaining valuable work and life experience.
This summer, 19 Mesa Youth Unite members tutored children in four Mesa agencies that deal with vulnerable and homeless families and children. According to Neuman and Dickinson’s Handbook of Early Literacy Research, there is only one book for every 300 children in low-income neighborhoods. Over the summer, children in low-income families may have limited access to books and less opportunity to practice reading skills. One in six children who are not reading proficiently in the third grade do not graduate from high school on time. This program provided books and tutors at no cost to the agencies to help stem summer learning loss.
One day a week the AmeriCorps met at Mesa United Way for leadership training, resume building, and planning techniques. The other four days of the week, they were in their respective agencies where they developed curriculum, planned programming, tested reading levels, played reading games, and most importantly, read with the children one-on-one. At the end of the summer, each group hosted a Feed the Reader event for parents and children about the importance of literacy, nutrition, and fitness. At the end of each event, children went home with free books to continue practicing.
The program had great, tangible results. Many of the children in the agencies increased their reading levels and their love and enjoyment of books. All the children walked away with books of their very own. And, the AmeriCorps members learned a lot about working in non-profits and with children.
One Mesa Youth Unite member said,
“I have learned so much and have been so motivated and inspired to keep helping. I learned that even the smallest cats can make an impact in the community. Everyone can have a part. What I did this summer gave kids the opportunity to be kids and feel safe. I am going to stick with the Salvation Army and grow this program as well as follow my passion of becoming a teacher, helping children every day because this is what I love to do.”