DETROIT – Early Friday morning, Mark Fields, Ford Motor Company chief operating officer and 2013/2014 Campaign Chair for the United Way of Southeast Michigan, along with a number of business and community leaders, came together for the local United Way chapters’ annual torch lighting ceremony. The ceremony kicks off a new campaign season and this year, the goals are grand.
“I am personally so excited to chair this campaign,” Fields said as he opened the ceremony. “It really delivers on what we need here in metro Detroit. The campaign theme this year is to invest in kids. And this gets to the heart of what it is going to take to make Detroit a top five place to live and work by 2030, which I think is a fantastic goal.”
To meet this end, the campaign aims to raise $40 million, a 14 percent increase over the last years’ efforts, which will be used to increase literacy and school readiness for Detroit area children under the age of five.
According to Fields, by the age of three, children in poverty will have heard 30 million fewer words than children in middle class homes. Fields added that these children also go on to experience much lower odds of educational success throughout their lives.
“All of us can affect the greatest change in metro Detroit by improving literally the first five years of childrens’ lives to ensure that by 2030, that graduating class will be the most college and career ready class in the nation,” Fields said.
Mark Brennan, president and CEO of United Way of Southeast Michigan, said this ceremony has taken place every year since 1949. “The lighting of the torch is a symbol of an invitation to ask others in the community, can we join together? Can I take a little bit of what I have and combine it with a little bit of what you have so that we might do something more powerfully together?” Brennan said.
“If you can imagine this effort changing the arch of having kids ready for school by kindergarten where only 50 percent are ready now,” Brennan said. “And we start getting marked progress that by the time they reach age five they are in fact ready, we change the trajectory of the greater Detroit area.”
Other speakers during the ceremony included Glover Quin, a Detroit Lion who recently moved to Michigan from Texas, and Carol Bush, a mother of six who credits the United Way with making her a better parent and improving the literacy of her children through a number of programs.
Quins’ mother, a former elementary school teacher, once grounded him for six weeks for earning a C on his report card. “I learned then how important education was,” Quin said.
“I feel like God brought me here for a specific reason,” Quin Said. “Putting our kids on a better path early is extremely important. Kids learn so much between three and five, their brains are like sponges. Encouraging kids to read is one way to get them on the path to future success, and I will do whatever I can to help.”
Bush came to United Way about four years ago after she had enrolled one of her children in a Head Start program. She noticed all the activities United Way was hosting in the school and decided to attend one of their parenting classes. According to Bush, by her third class she was hooked. “I went to the next class, and the next class until I had attended about 45 classes,” Bush said. “I then started going into the community encouraging neighbors to get involved too.”
Bush and her children have found a great benefit in the United Way young literacy program that delivers a book to your house each month for every child under the age of five. She said her children quickly learned to start watching the mail for their new books and would get excited and ask her to read with them, a practice she said definitely increased their literacy skills.
Recently, Bush moved to another community and was pleased to see United Way once again when she went to enroll a younger child in a Head Start program.
“No matter where you go United Way is going to be there,” Bush said. “It has definitely helped me and my children. Thank you to all who have donated their time and money to help others in the community.”
For anyone interested in contributing to the United Way of Southeastern Michigan, be sure to visit www.at.ford.com on Oct. 1, 2013 to access the website address for the new campaign.