When the United Way of Allen County launched their ten-year initiative to close the third-grade reading gap, they wanted to work with an agency that would not only provide full-service branding and advertising services, but also pour its heart into the movement. And we have — we fell in love with the initiative, its ideals, and all the cool kids we’ve gotten to meet along the way.
Our work on this project consisted of several elements: 1) naming the initiative, 2) designing a logo, 3) building an informational website for the community and volunteers, and 4) developing an advertising campaign consisting of print ads, TV commercials and outdoor. The winning name, Learn United, quickly rose to the top of our list (we came up with several dozen options) because it complemented United Way’s national Live United campaign.
The logo uses the established Trade Gothic typeface of the national United Way branding, but wrapped in circular bands of color that represent the cooperation and involvement of the entire community that’s needed to make this initiative a success. The circular shapes are also a nod to the circular bars that rise up from an open hand in the national United Way logo.
So what is Learn United? It’s a 10-year initiative designed to ensure that every child who graduates third grade in Allen County can read at or above their grade level. Third grade is a transitional year for children; it’s when they switch from learning-to-read and begin reading-to-learn. Importantly, research indicates that kids who struggle with reading in third grade will likely continue to struggle throughout their educational career. As curriculums advance, these children fall further and further behind. The Learn United project was designed to bolster support for educators and parents who are helping children who struggle with their reading skills, with 3rd grade being the primary measuring point.
The effects of this campaign reach far into the community. Consider this chain of events: children who read at grade level by third grade are statistically likely to fare much better through their remaining years of school. This means they’ll be more likely to graduate and attain a degree or certificate of higher learning which, in turn, helps them achieve a satisfying, well-paying career. As the education level of our community’s workforce improves, the talent pool of our region will grow and attract more entreprenuership and business investment (this coincides nicely with the goals of the Northeast Indiana Regional Partnership’s initiatives like the Made Here campaign and Vision 2020). All this business investment fuels our regional economy which, in turn, leads to a better quality of life for people of all ages in Allen County and northeast Indiana.
Grade school reading skills are the catalyst for all of this progress. When kids read well, everyone wins. If our kids aren’t reading well, the entire chain of events comes to a halt.
The focus of the Learn United campaign was to raise awareness and attract volunteers. Children need help from tutors and to see grown-ups from all walks of life embracing reading. In creating our TV commercials with John Hartman (2010 series) and Punch Films (2011 series), we saw the process in action as business owners, busy professionals, entrepreneurs and community leaders wholeheartedly embraced the initiative. We didn’t need to hire actors, we used real moms, dads, teachers, grandparents and kids. We wrote a loose script for some of the voice overs, but beyond that we just put the kids and volunteers together and started rolling the cameras. We think we capture some real magic, too.
Of course, being so close to the project, we couldn’t help but get involved as well. A few OLG’ers signed up for Real Men Read, one of Learn United’s many volunteer programs, and spent a few days each month reading stories to second and third graders — and still do. It’s easy to forget how much kids love a good story; they hang on every word. Seeing a grown-up stranger take time out of their busy day to come in their class and read to them means more to a child than many people realize — especially for children of a single-mother home. It sends a message: Reading is important. It’s cool. It’s something that we should all be good at. This kind of volunteering leaves an impression on the volunteer and the kids that can last a lifetime.
There’s so much more to tell about the people involved in this project and incredible experiences we enjoyed. So, to close this post, here’s a stream of photography of cute kids and awesome community volunteers. Check out that note from one child to his volunteer, “…you mean a lot to my heart.” Wow, even if that was the only child affected, it would be enough. Fortunately, United Way’s Learn United volunteers have reached thousands.