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A boy and a girl sit on a couch and look at a book that the girl holds.
Jonathan and Amya Garcia have benefitted from United Way of New York City’s ReadNYC program to help increase childhood literacy in low-income areas.
Photo: United Way of New York City
A boy and a girl sit on a couch and look at a book that the girl holds.
Jonathan and Amya Garcia have benefitted from United Way of New York City’s ReadNYC program to help increase childhood literacy in low-income areas.
Photo: United Way of New York City
Volunteering & Giving
January 27, 2021

Helping to increase literacy among children in New York City

Since 2018, Wells Fargo has donated $550,000 to United Way of New York City’s ReadNYC program to help increase childhood literacy in low-income areas.

When Amy Casanova’s daughter Amya Garcia was about to enter kindergarten, she noticed Amya needed a little help when it came to reading — and that it was affecting her daughter’s confidence. Fortunately, Casanova discovered United Way of New York City’s ReadNYC program to help increase childhood literacy in low-income areas. Soon after, Amya, now 10, was not only enjoying reading, but she was also confident enough to read in front of other people.

Today, Casanova is an advocate for the program — and a volunteer for United Way of New York City. “I’m super appreciative of the program, not only for my family, but for my community,” Casanova said. “Watching the impact they’ve had has been amazing to be a part of.”

Since 2018, Wells Fargo has donated $550,000 to support ReadNYC. “Wells Fargo is one of our largest donors,” said Sheena Wright, president and CEO of United Way of New York City. “The funding directly supports the ReadNYC program, and we’ve been able to have conversations about expanding it. We couldn’t do this without Wells Fargo’s support.”

An image of a stack of books is next to Amy Casanova’s quote and headshot. Her quote says: 'I’m super appreciative of the program, not only for my family, but for my community. Watching the impact they’ve had has been amazing to be a part of.'

ReadNYC began in 2013 in Mott Haven in the South Bronx, where at the time, the average household income was $16,000 and 90% of students were not reading on grade level, according to United Way of New York City. “By the time they reach third grade, it puts them at a higher risk of dropping out of high school,” Wright said.

Today, the ReadNYC program works in five schools and provides coaching and professional development for principals and teachers; educational programming, services, and interventions for preschool children to stay on track developmentally; after-school resources and summer learning opportunities for school-age children; at-home support for parents and caregivers; and health and wellness resources for families.

A woman stands at a podium and looks ahead as she speaks. Behind her are purple drapes.
Sheena Wright, president and CEO of United Way of New York City, at the organization’s 2019 Power of Women Luncheon.
Photo: United Way of New York City

“All of these resources and wraparound services really help create a strong path for that child to get on reading level,” Wright said.

Since the program launched about seven years ago, there has been a 43% increase in proficiency. “We have a long way to go, but we have made great strides,” Wright said.

As of December 2020, the five schools ReadNYC works in are operating under a hybrid approach, where families could choose between full remote learning or a combination of remote and in-person learning. The ReadNYC program is supporting this format by continuing to contribute books to families’ home libraries, providing digital technology for virtual learning, and offering resources for teachers, among other ways.

Helping to even the playing field

Through the ReadNYC program, the Casanova family received a free book each month to build their library, and Amya participated in ReadNYC after-school and summer programs. Thanks to the professional development ReadNYC provides for principals and teachers, Casanova said Amya’s teachers really knew her needs and were able to address them.

“She got to participate in things she would’ve never been able to before,” Casanova said. “She was excited about reading books, and she was speaking up more and more involved. It helped her academically. She was at the top of her class.”

A woman stands in front of a podium smiling and holding a girl’s hand. Several people stand behind them but are only partially seen.
Amy Casanova and her daughter Amya Garcia at United Way of New York City’s 2019 Power of Women Luncheon.
Photo: United Way of New York City

Amya shared her enthusiasm about reading with her brother, Jonathan Garcia Jr., 9, who is now in fourth grade and also participated in the summer portion of ReadNYC. “He would sit and read books with her,” Casanova said. “She is like a little teacher.”

Jonathan, who has a speech delay, has blossomed from the program, Casanova said. “He’s outspoken and advocating for himself.”

Watching Amya and Jonathan grow with ReadNYC inspired Casanova to go back to school to earn her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in social work. In addition to being a volunteer for United Way of New York City, Casanova now works as a parent coordinator at PS 179 School, and is appreciative of ReadNYC’s continued support during the pandemic.

“They’re listening to the needs of the community and meeting them where they need it,” Casanova said. “It really helps even the playing field. People that live in different neighborhoods are able to get that help. For me, it helps in ways I probably wouldn’t have been able to for them.”

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