COACHELLA VALLEY — United Way of the Desert is poised to receive $224,060 to improve early childhood literacy and kindergarten readiness among Coachella Valley children thanks to First 5 Riverside.

Third grade reading proficiency is one of the most significant predictors of high school graduation, and children who do not read on grade-level by third grade — and live in poverty —are 13 times less likely to graduate than their more affluent peers. In the Coachella Valley, 67 percent of children do not read proficiently at third grade and are at risk of falling behind academically.

United Way of the Desert is addressing this achievement gap between economically disadvantaged children and their more affluent peers by providing an equitable distribution of quality early literacy experiences through the evidence-based Raising A Reader program.

With First 5 Riverside funding, United Way of the Desert will expand Raising A Reader to serve 875 kindergarten children in Coachella Valley Unified School District and 485 preschool children in Desert Sands Unified School District each year.

“Learning begins at birth and our littlest students are among our most amazing scholars as they are learning more than just their ABCs,” Mary Perry, Public Information Officer for Desert Sands Unified School District said in a prepared statement. “United Way of the Desert and First 5 Riverside recognize the educational strides being made in our early childhood education programs and we thank them for their support.”

Raising A Reader is an early literacy and parent engagement program that encompasses a weekly take-home book bag rotation, teacher training, parent education sessions, and connection to local libraries. “Through Raising A Reader, we give families the tools to foster positive literacy habits at home, which will improve child outcomes across the Coachella Valley for many years to come,” Melanie Homec, United Way of the Desert Community Impact Director, said in a prepared statement.

United Way of the Desert is a licensed, trained Raising A Reader affiliate and has served more than 450 children in Raising A Reader since 2016; Local outcomes show a 71 percent improvement in family literacy behaviors among participating children.

Collaborating with United Way of the Desert helps First 5 Riverside to support the growing needs of families with young children by addressing barriers to literacy achievement in the Coachella Valley; With support from First 5 Riverside, United Way of the Desert will provide underserved families the tools, education and resources necessary to achieve critical education milestones and succeed in school.

First 5 Riverside (FR5), also known as the Riverside County Children & Families Commission, is a division of the Riverside County Department of Public Social Services and is funded by Proposition 10 tobacco tax revenues. F5R supports early learning, child health and family strengthening through education, partnerships and funding for services that benefit children, from prenatal through age 5, their families, and communities. For more information about F5R or it’s funded programs, call 800-266-3880 or visit