The gift of literacy: United Way of West Central Mississippi’s LEARN Program empowers third graders

Published 9:58 am Sunday, May 19, 2024

United Way of West Central Mississippi has announced the winners of the bookmark contest and the continued success of its LEARN program, aimed at fostering a love for reading and literacy among third-grade students in both public and private school districts across the region.

The LEARN program, an initiative driven by the United Way of West Central Mississippi, aims to provide four books annually to every third-grade student, enriching their lives through the power of literature. Alongside these books, each student receives a specially crafted bookmark, adding a personal touch to their reading journey. The bookmarks are created by second-grade
students.The staff of United Way then chooses four to be distributed with the books each quarter. Each winner also receives a gift certificate courtesy of Lorelei Books.

The winners this year include: Aryana Strawn – Porter’s Chapel Academy; Bentley Thomason – Bowmar Elementary; Maylee Stokes – Bovina Elementary; Keaghan Stanley – St. Francis.

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What sets the LEARN program apart is not just the provision of books, but the sense of community involvement and collaboration it fosters, United Way of West Central Mississippi Executive Director Michele Connelly said.

“We have many community leaders and volunteers that give of their time to read to the students. The bookmarks accompanying each book are not simply chosen by staff members; rather, they are artworks created by second-grade students, adding an element of excitement to the books they receive.”

Alyssa Lick, director of Marketing and Resource Development at United Way of West Central Mississippi, said the program stresses the importance of literacy and the power of reading throughout students’ lives.

“We believe in the transformative power of literacy, and the LEARN program embodies our commitment to empowering young minds through the joy of reading,” Lick said. “By providing each third-grade student with books and personalized bookmarks, we aim to inspire a lifelong love for reading and learning.”

Lick said the success of the LEARN program would not be possible without the generous support of United Way’s sponsors. United Way of West Central Mississippi extends its heartfelt gratitude to Ergon, Lorelei Books, The Campaign for Grade Level Reading, Vicksburg Warren School District, The City of Vicksburg, Excel by 5, and Regions Bank for their unwavering commitment to literacy and education in the community, she said.

“Through the collaborative efforts of sponsors and community partners, the LEARN program continues to make a meaningful impact on the lives of students, helping to build a brighter future, one book at a time.”

United Way of West Central Mississippi was able to distribute 14,344 books into the hands of children through not only the LEARN program, but also the literacy intervention program, Dolly Parton Imagination Library, Trunk or Treat, Day of Action, New Born Packets, and many more.

For more information about the LEARN program and other initiatives by United Way of West Central Mississippi or for those who would like to volunteer to read to the students, calls may be placed to 601-636-1733 to speak with Ruby Green.


United Way of West Central Mississippi is dedicated to improving the lives of individuals and families in its community by mobilizing the caring power of donors, volunteers, and community partners. Through strategic initiatives and collaborative efforts, United Way of West Central Mississippi addresses the most pressing issues facing the community, creating lasting change and building a stronger, more resilient community for all.