United Way of Central Iowa has been recognized as a 2022 Pacesetter for our UNITED to THRIVE strategic imperative.

The Campaign for Grade-Level Reading (CGLR) announced Des Moines as a 2021 – 2022 Pacesetter Community for the work being done by United Way of Central Iowa under its UNITED to THRIVE strategic imperative.

We are honored to have United Way of Central Iowa acknowledged for the exemplary work we are doing alongside our community. The recognition comes after both a peer review, involving over 130 individuals across the CGLR network who completed more than 600 reviews of nominated stories, and an internal review.

Both the peer and CGLR reviewers determined the Pacesetters based on the communities’ ability to demonstrate progress being made toward early education success.

The Foundation of UNITED to THRIVE


Just as our community is ever evolving – some may say at a more rapid rate due to the COVID-19 pandemic – United Way of Central Iowa must also evolve as an organization to meet the urgent, current, and future needs of our community. Our future focus is on growth, hope, and prosperity for every central Iowan. The path we’re on is leading us toward a more equitable, engaged, and empowered community, and UNITED to THRIVE is how we’re going to get there.

UNITED to THRIVE evolves our work from education, income, and health to the 5 Elements of a Thriving Community: Essential Needs, Early Childhood Success, Education Success, Economic Opportunity, and Health & Well-Being. These interconnected areas of work are how United Way of Central Iowa and its partners are going to strategically invest and address the toughest challenges we face in our community. We know that when we make progress in one element, it positively impacts all of the others.


United Way was specifically recognized for Early Childhood Success and Education Success.


Early Childhood Success: Our youngest Central Iowans need not only access to childcare, but safe, reliable, and affordable childcare to be healthy and ready to learn.


Education Success: Central Iowa students need not only to graduate from high school but should also have the opportunity to graduate with a plan for a successful future.


Education Success and Third Grade Reading


The percentage of central Iowa’s third graders who are reading proficiently is at a 15-year low at 53%. This is a 23% drop in the past two years. For third graders whose households face more significant systemic barriers, more than 80% are not reading at grade level. It’s been proven that if you are reading at grade level at the end of third grade, you are four times more likely to graduate than those who are not.

For years, United Way of Central Iowa has called attention to the importance of third grade reading through its Read to Succeed programs. That’s because a child’s ability to read at the end of third grade is critical to their ability to succeed as they progress in school and eventually graduate. At the end of third grade, students must shift from learning to read to reading to learn. From math to science to technology and beyond, the ability to read proficiently is key to a student’s success in every subject throughout their schooling.


United Way provides Education Success focused initiatives and works with schools and partners to improve reading scores. This work provides wrap-around supportive services to students who are needing support, and puts them on a path for a successful, thriving future.


What is CGLR?

CGLR is a collaborative effort by foundations, nonprofits, businesses, government agencies, states, and communities across the nation to ensure more children in families with low-income succeed in school and graduate prepared for further education, a career, and active citizenship.

Although schools must be accountable for helping every child achieve proficiency in reading by the end of third grade through teaching and care, CGLR is based in a belief that schools cannot succeed in this effort when the tackle it alone. Organizations and agencies, including United Way of Central Iowa, submit their programs that are addressing the staggering statistic of two-thirds of U.S. fourth graders are not proficient readers* on behalf of their communities.

To be recognized, the program must exemplify best practices in one or more of the seven “Must Do Priorities” for Early School Success.

  • Stop playing catch-up: Ensure that fewer children start school so far behind.
  • End chronic absence: Don’t let students fall further behind during the school year.
  • Reverse the summer slide: Enable struggling and striving readers to make progress instead of losing ground.
  • Address health-related challenges: Healthy development is key to early academic success.
  • Equip parents to succeed: Parents are brain builders, first teachers and tutors, strong advocates, and best coaches
  • Advance grade-level reading and math: Start early, align, and integrate.
  • Slow learning loss and accelerate equitable learning recovery: Fast track access to the internet, tutors, and out-of-school learning.


How You Can Get Involved

Want to make an impact in early grade reading? United Way of Central Iowa has a variety of ways you can invest your philanthropic investments or spend your volunteer time creating lasting change in this effort.

  • Donate to Early Childhood Success or Education Success
    When making a donation to United Way of Central Iowa, you can designate your donation to one or both of these Elements of our work. Or you can consider joining Women United or Education Leadership Initiative to make a more powerful impact and get the benefit of connection to our work and to others from across central Iowa who are also interested in fostering a thriving community.I Want to Donate Now
  • Volunteer to be a Book Buddy
    Hundreds of central Iowa preschoolers are at risk of not gaining the essential    literacy skills they need to be ready to learn when they start kindergarten – and research shows that children who start behind, stay behind. By volunteering just 30 minutes a week, you can make a difference in the life of one or two of these preschoolers. During your regularly scheduled time together, you’ll be helping them prepare for kindergarten and teaching them critical literacy skills they will use forever.I Want to Be a Book Buddy
  • Advocate for change alongside us in the upcoming legislative session.
    Sign up to receive our Advocacy Update newsletter to learn more about United Way’s advocacy impacting all areas of our work.I Want the Advocavy Update

Topics: Education Success, UNITED to THRIVE

Kate Bennett

Written by Kate Bennett

Kate Bennett is the Community Impact Officer for Early Childhood & Education Success at United Way of Central Iowa.