When Felicia Young’s son was born with special needs that included a mild mental disability, she knew that he would require community services to help him thrive. “At that time, I had to really dig for resources to help me connect the dots,” she says.
By Megan S. Willman

The Metro United Way relies on volunteers to help kids achieve academic success. 

Eventually, Felicia found Metro United Way (MUW) and the programs which have helped her son blossom; this year he will be a high school senior. “My initial struggles followed by the success we found with MUW ignited my passion to help others find resources and connect the dots for their own children.” Today, Felicia serves as the associate manager of volunteer engagement, and broadly spreads the word about all MUW can offer. “There is never a shortage of people who need help in our community,” she says.

Metro United Way provides a broad spectrum of services, but focused our conversation on early childhood education. According to Brigance data from the Kentucky Department of Education, only 48 percent of children are ready to read when they enter kindergarten. Further data from the National Center for Education Statistics indicate that 30 percent of third graders can’t read at grade level and 1 in 5 students will not graduate on time. Metro United Way partners with over 60 local organizations who invite volunteers to work with children so that they don’t become one of those statistics.

How can a volunteer help get a child ready for success in school? Felicia described three options:

1. Reader Tutor Mentor
Individuals meet with the children weekly to read with them, help with homework, and talk about good study habits. Educational experience is not necessary, but the commitment to being there for that child is essential. Time Commitment: 1-2 hours a week

2. Youth Program Quality Intervention
To maintain the high standards of out-of-school programs, volunteers assist Metro United Way in regular assessments of those programs. Individuals who are interested in serving in this capacity are trained as external assessors and have an integral part of ensuring the continued quality of service for the children. Time Commitment: 4 hours a week.

3. Little Libraries
Metro United Way maintains about 35 free Little Libraries in neighborhoods around town. For those individuals who may not have time to volunteer, book donations for the Little Libraries are greatly appreciated. A list of book requests is on the MUW website, and a wish list is maintained on Amazon; books can be ordered and shipped directly to Metro United Way for disbursement to the libraries.

Metro United Way’s Little Libraries initiative gives neighborhoods and businesses an opportunity to place libraries in their front yards which gives families easy access to books they can either keep or return. 

How does a person get started with one of these volunteer options?

  • Check the Metro United Way website for more information.
  • Complete the online form for volunteers. This form will go directly to Felicia who will match the volunteer with a partner organization. (Area counties include Jefferson, Oldham, Bullitt, and Shelby in Kentucky, and Floyd, Clark, and Harrison in Indiana.)
  • All volunteers will submit to a background check. Other training and requirements vary depending on the individual agency in which the volunteer serves.
  • Contact Felicia Young directly with any questions: 502.292.6112

What do current volunteers say about the work they do?
Volunteers are rewarded by seeing the tangible difference they make in these kids’ lives. Perhaps they are making better grades in school, or their reading level shows marked improvement. Felicia explains, “Volunteers, particularly in the RTM program, get a feeling of connection, admiration, and friendship with these kids. It’s something they can feel as well as something they can see.”

Volunteers in the Metro United Way’s Excellence Academy early learning centers read and share
stories to help preschoolers easily transition into kindergarten. 

Aside from the personal motivation Felicia maintains because of her son, I asked what brings her to work every day. She keeps the following quote from Frederick Douglass on her phone and computer: “It’s easier to build strong children than it is to repair broken men.” Metro United Way programs identify problems early on, and with the help of volunteers, raise strong and healthy children. Felicia hopes that many in our community will want to assist with this important task.

Here’s another way you can have a positive impact on a child’s life.