Area United Ways Partner to Bring 'Born Learning' Early Childhood Education Program to Upstate

A new partnership among seven area United Way organizations wants to ensure that all the Upstate's children are "born learning." Citing the importance of stimulating children's during the first three years of life, United Way organizations representing all 10 Upstate counties have launched a public engagement campaign to help parents, caregivers and communities provide our area's young children with the kind of stimulating learning experience that helps young minds develop before they even reach the kindergarden classroom.

Announced on Tuesday, the Born Learning partnership includes a website, where parents can find a vast collection of resources to help engage in the learning process with their infants and young children. Some of the ideas include turning mundane chores like laundry into an opportunity to teach language skills, and turning a trip to the grocery store into a scavenger hunt for your toddler.

The website also offers a list of United Way-supported early education programs in each of the 10 Upstate counties, as well as fact sheets on children's developmental stages from birth to age five.

Also part of the Born Learning program are a series of trails across the upstate. The trails include activities meant to improve language and literacy skills while simultaneously encouraging physical activity for those children and their families. In total, there are 15 trails, and locations can be found on the Born Learning website:

The idea for the Born Learning partnership came over a year ago when the seven Upstate United Ways, which are all independent organizations, began brainstorming ways to better work together on issues that affect the entire region, and early childhood learning and literacy was a natural fit, according to United Way of the Piedmont President and CEO Chris Steed. "As we started having a conversation about those issues that are the most central to what we do and what our priorities are in the community, early learning and early literacy quickly emerged as one of those common threads," he offers.

Facilitating the conversations was Ten at the Top, using its expertise and experience in creating effective regional partnerships to assist the United Ways in this first-of-its-kind partnership. "The effort has been heavily dependent on and has benefitted from the leadership of [Ten at the Top Executive Director] Dean Hybl and Ten at the Top to help us facilitate the conversation, and to help us stay on task for meeting these objectives," said Steed.

In addition to partnering with each other, the area United Ways are also working with schools, child care centers, libraries, health clinics, doctors' offices, churches and neighborhood centers to distribute the new Born Learning materials and programming, and to promote usage of the website.

Dr. Russell Booker, Superintendent of Spartanburg School District 7 and board chair of the United Way of the Piedmont emphasized the importance of starting children early in the learning process, saying, "Children are learning constantly, right from birth. What they learn during those first five years before they enter our schools depends on the experiences they have each and every day-at home, at grandma's house, at the child care center. This, I believe, is our greatest challenge and our greatest opportunity."

Parents and caregivers who want more information about the Born Learning effort, or would like to participate in any of the programming offered by their local United Way should visit the website or call 2-1-1 for local contacts, or see below to contact your United Way directly.

United Way of Anderson County 864-226-3438

United Way of Greenville County 864-467-3333

United Way of Greenwood & Abbeville Counties 864-229-4103

United Way of Laurens County 864-833-3623

United Way of Oconee County 864-882-9743

United Way of Pickens County 864-850-7094

United Way of the Piedmont (serving Spartanburg, Union and Cherokee counties) 864-582-7556

Christopher George is a freelance writer and multimedia professional from Spartanburg. He is a former editor and publisher of the Spartanburg Spark, and his writing and video work has appeared in numerous online and print publications including Mountain Xpress in Asheville, NC and in titles by the Hub City Writers Project.