Grade-Level Reading Initiative

At United Way, one of our most important goals is to increase the percentage of elementary school students who are reading at grade level. By enhancing a child's reading skills, we're increasing the likelihood they will graduate from high school and do so on time. 


To ensure more children enter school ready to learn and succeed academically, United Way launched the Grade-Level Reading Initiative (GRLI) in 2013. The initiative aims to provide enriching activities and reading materials to academically challenged children who might need academic reinforcement and motivation. The initiative currently focuses on two strategies to increase reading proficiency -- year-round book distributions and Vello, an innovative online tutoring program. The initiative is also aimed at promoting literacy in the community, building children’s at-home libraries, and is devoted to student success.  

Our target students are those who need the most help; students who are in parts of the community that are underserved, underfunded, and overlooked. These United Way led solutions and partnerships are helping children receive the extra attention, information, and support necessary for them to excel not only in school but also in life. 


A large component of our GRLI is our year-round book distributions. From 2017 to 2018, United Way donated more than 3,600 high quality and age-appropriate books to local children. By the end of 2018, United Way had donated 7,350 books throughout 27 community events like literacy fairs, STEAM camps, summer feeding programs and more. By sharing books with children, they are more likely to retain literacy skills, especially during the summer months or during school breaks. It also increases their access to enriching learning materials. When children read at home, it not only enhances their ability to become independent readers but also builds confidence and promotes lifelong learning. The United Way is committed to the children of our community, and sharing books is one way we love to give back. 


The Vello online reading program was created by United Way of Tucson and Southern Arizona as a means of helping students to reach their full potential and improve their reading skills. Studies have shown that students who are not reading at their grade level by third grade are less likely to succeed in the remainder of the education. Therefore, this student has already failed before they have even gotten started. With Vello, helping students learn is made easier for volunteers by having access to an online program that can even be used on the go. 

Vello connects local 2nd grade students with professional volunteers in order to help the students improve their reading skills in both English and Spanish. Volunteer sessions are scheduled weekly per classroom, in 30 minute intervals, one session per student. Volunteers log onto the program during their scheduled time and are able to interact and read with the student over the phone while they view a shared screen.

Our Students

Our students are in classrooms at Alarcon Elementary in San Elizario ISD and at Zavala Elementary in El Paso ISD. Teachers choose five to seven students that are reading at the lowest proficiency to participate in the program. Then, the teacher selects the curriculum that best fits the student’s needs and the student will read through those books until they are mastered and the student is ready to move on to the next level of curriculum. Additionally, we have students at Tornillo Elementary and Fabens Elementary who work with Raz-Plus, which is the supplemental reading program for Vello. This allows the students to download and read through the books and participate as a class to work through the materials.

Our Partners

The United Way is fortunate to have partner agencies that are generous enough to give their time and resources to help our programs run smoothly. Vello’s volunteers come from professional companies that take time out of their schedule every week in order to help a student improve. For the 2018 - 2019 school year, our professional volunteers are groups from AT&T, El Paso Electric, Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas El Paso Branch, Prudential Financial, and community leaders. Each group provides 10 - 20 volunteers that are ready and willing to participate on a regular basis with our students.


Community Impact Coordinator
(915) 533-2434 ext. 243

Partially funded by:


 Partners in Education:  

Partners in Volunteerism: