An Annual Meeting and Campaign Celebration highlight: United Way’s network helps more children enter Kindergarten ready to succeed

Rev. Marilynn Robinson from Saint Francis Healthcare (lower left) addresses the audience at United Way's Annual Meeting about working to make sure children enter Kindergarten ready to succeed. Robinson's presentation included information related to the region's battle against high infant mortality rates and the need for higher quality pre-education experiences at home.

Rev. Marilyn Robinson (Senior V.P., Saint Francis Healthcare) was a featured speaker at United Way’s Annual Meeting and Campaign Celebration last week, sharing an informative presentation about how supporting of United Way helps more children enter Kindergarten ready to learn and succeed.

Two of the largest challenges facing our area’s young children are healthy births and quality pre-school preparedness experiences from parents and caregivers.

Robinson’s presentation addressed the work that is being done – and work that must be strengthened – if we are to see more of the area’s children enter Kindergarten with opportunities to succeed.

Robinson is a United Way Board Member and Chairwoman of the organization’s Community Impact work, overseeing hundreds of volunteers involved in making funding decisions to support our region’s network of partner nonprofit agencies.

Robinson said our region has a struggle with infant mortality rates (the number of children dying before their first birthday is much higher than the national average). A factor contributing to this struggle is that many expectant mothers receive little or no prenatal care, and some engage in poor health patterns while pregnant.

“Therefore, too many local children are dying before their first birthday. Every baby deserves a first birthday,” she added.

Robinson pointed out that while the area’s infant mortality rates are too high, they would be even higher if not for the positive work performed every day by local government, health care organizations and nonprofits.

Robinson’s remarks on early childhood education practices showed a link between success and economic factors.

“Unfortunately, a lack of school readiness seems connected to poverty. But studies show that children living in poverty can have rich early life experiences and can enter kindergarten ready to learn.”

Over 28% of children in Memphis and the Mid-South live in poverty conditions. Robinson said that access to quality education at an early age is a key factor.

“Our gifts to United Way help agencies give children access to the quality education experiences they need and we really thank you for your support in that area,” she said.

Robinson highlighted some of United Way’s work in combating high infant mortality rates and a lack of early education experiences in recent years. She shared information about a United Way project called “Children DO Come With Instructions” which packaged information about infant care for mothers of newborns. The boxes were distributed to new mothers at local hospitals.

She also cited an initiative from the late 1990s called “Success By 6” which improved the quality of care at local childcare centers through mentorship, funding and training.

“We’re very excited about all the things we have been able to do,” Robinson concluded. “It’s your donations, your gifts and your commitment to United Way that helps fund these infant-related programs.”

Last year, United Way volunteers directed over $1.2 million to partner agencies working to improve the number of children ready to succeed in Kindergarten.

(Robinson’s presentation also included information from Karen Harrell from Porter Leath, one of United Way’s partner agencies. Harrell’s remarks will be highlighted in another United Way News Center story later this week.)

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