Mercer Student Body Recognized with United Way of Central Georgia Volunteer of the Year Award

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United Way Volunteer of the Year

MACON – Mercer University’s student body was recognized with the fourth annual Lt. Randy Parker Memorial Volunteer of the Year Award during Thursday’s annual meeting of the United Way of Central Georgia (UWCG).

The award, created to recognize a volunteer or volunteers who are outstanding in raising awareness for UWCG’s efforts in the local community, is named for the Macon-Bibb County firefighter who heroically gave his life in the line of duty in February 2015. Parker was actively involved in United Way of Central Georgia among many other community organizations.

Each of the past two years, approximately 200 Mercer students have served as tutors for United Way’s Read2Succeed program, which engages local students in reading for at least one hour per week outside of class.

The Read2Succeed program is part of United Way of Central Georgia’s larger Read United initiative, which aims to bring all Bibb County elementary school students’ reading scores up to grade-level by third grade.

Research indicates that by the end of third grade, students move from “learning to read” to “reading to learn.” Therefore, students who do not make this transition are four times more likely to drop out of high school and therefore to remain unemployed or incarcerated in their adult life.

UWCG President/CEO George McCanless said third-graders who are at grade level in reading jumped from 38 percent in 2015 to 65 percent last year. Part of the Bibb County School District’s effort to improve literacy is the Read United initiative, which is totally dependent on volunteer tutors like those from Mercer.

“Few communities could begin to afford to pay for the volunteer service provided by this year’s honoree, the Mercer University student body,” McCanless said before presenting the award to Mercer students.

Over the past two years, Mercer has provided tutors for seven elementary schools and worked with more than 600 elementary students for a total of more than 13,000 hours. The federal government calculates the value of tutoring at more than $20 per hour, meaning that the University has contributed a value of more than $260,000 to the Bibb County School District.

“Together, we are making a difference in the lives of these students and in our community,” said Dr. Mary Alice Morgan, senior vice provost for service learning at Mercer. “Mercer’s tutors work with students identified by teachers as having the lowest reading scores and the most struggles with reading. In turn, our students gain an education about the challenges facing children in low-income neighborhoods and a greater sense of civic responsibility. As we like to say at Mercer, ‘Changing the world starts at home.’”

In 2016, Mercer was recognized as one of the most decorated institutions on the Department of Education’s President’s Higher Education Community Service Honor Roll. The University was one of only four finalists nationally for the Presidential Award in the Economic Development category and received Honor Roll with Distinction recognition in both the Education and General Community Service categories.

Mercer is also one of only 361 institutions of higher learning to have earned the rigorous Community Engagement Classification from the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching.

About United Way of Central Georgia

United Way of Central Georgia is a leading funder of health and human service organizations that have a measurable impact in 14 Central Georgia counties and improve the lives of more than 300,000 local people annually. The annual campaign supports 47 programs delivered by 32 local partner agencies. United Way of Central Georgia also funds a free, confidential seven-days a week, 24-hours a day information and referral line serving all of Central Georgia. Simply dial 2-1-1 to find or give help. United Way initiatives include Mission United, which supports the needs of veterans; VITA (Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program); FamilyWize discount prescription card; Early Education Empowerment Zone (First Steps, Parents as Teachers, Quality Rated Child Care) and the Read United initiative, which includes the tutoring programs Read2Succeed and AARP Foundation Experience Corps. UWCG also hosts AmeriCorps VISTA. To learn more about what United Way of Central Georgia is doing for the community, visit www.unitedwaycg.org.

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Kyle Sears