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United Way announces project results for Placer County

Placer residents improving reading, health, financial literacy
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Three projects funded by United Way California Capital Region are making significant differences in the lives of hundreds of Placer County residents, CEO Steve Heath said recently in a town hall meeting in Auburn.

“We are working with several partner nonprofits to produce measurable results on issues of vital importance to Placer County and the regional community as a whole,” Heath said.

Sacramento-based United Way California Capital Region serves Amador, El Dorado, Placer, Sacramento and Yolo counties.

Heath noted the high school dropout rate in Placer County is 11 percent. The group created its STAR Readers project to improve early grade reading, a key indicator of whether a child will later graduate high school. In Placer County, 49 percent of children do not achieve proficiency on the STAR test schools administer at the end of third grade.

In Placer County, STAR Readers works with the Boys & Girls Club of Auburn to provide instruction for 65 kindergarten through third-graders. All of the participants had tested well below grade level before starting the program. Now 58.8 percent of those students who had previously struggled are rapidly progressing toward proficiency.

“Our goal is to significantly increase the number of kids who are proficient and thus ultimately improve high school graduation rates dramatically,” Heath said. “And that’s just one example of the projects we fund – projects that produce measurable outcomes. That’s why we’re holding town hall meetings throughout the region – so people who give to United Way can see the great results from their gifts.”

United Way California Capital Region also is focused on obesity reduction, noting that 20 percent of Placer County residents are considered obese.

“The potential ramifications of those rates are staggering, not just for people struggling with obesity, but for all of us,” Heath said. “We think the key to reducing obesity rates is to form and reinforce healthy lifestyles, and that’s what our Fit Kids project is working on.”

In Placer County, United Way is providing a second grant to Boys & Girls Club of Auburn to provide healthy eating and active lifestyle programs for kids. Using an assessment tool called the Fitnessgram, the team establishes a baseline on pulmonary capacity, body mass index and more. In the first year of the program, 65 percent of participants improved performance in at least one of the six Fitnessgram domains.

United Way’s third focus area is household financial stability. Even before the recession, 30 percent of households in the region, and nearly 20 percent of Placer County households, were financially unstable, spending 40 percent or more of their income on housing alone.

“We believe that one of the key things missing for people these days is financial literacy,” Heath said. “If people don’t understand or know how to participate in our economic system, they will struggle.”

Participants in the project are making progress by creating savings accounts and preparing to be self-sufficient. The $en$e-Ability project also works with 183 foster youth throughout the five-county region who are about to emancipate. As they go through the educational process, they earn credits toward individual development accounts – matched savings accounts. Savings can be used to pay college tuition or buy a computer, car and more. In Placer County, United Way is funding Koinonia Family Services to work with foster youth.

United Way California Capital Region is investing about $131,000 in the three projects in Placer County, in addition to the money it raised for Placer County nonprofits from residents and businesses located inside and outside the county in 2011-2012.

“We would like to be able to expand that because there are certainly more people in Placer County who could benefit from these projects,” Heath said. “And I am confident that over time, that will happen as people learn more about the high-quality results we’re achieving. But in the meantime, we wanted to report back to our supporters – Placer County’s donors, nonprofits and volunteers who helped formulate, develop and fund these projects. We conducted town hall meetings here during our regional needs assessment. We thought it was time to conduct town hall meetings again – this time to share the results and say thanks.”

Community members can give, volunteer and advocate in support of the causes they care most about, benefiting United Way and hundreds of nonprofits in Amador, El Dorado, Placer, Sacramento and Yolo counties. United Way is an independent, local affiliate of United Way Worldwide. For more information, visit www.yourlocalunitedway.org.