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United in Literacy 

United in Literacy 

  • "United in Literacy" originally appeared in the June 2024 "Animal" issue of COMO Magazine
Andrew Grabau speaking at 20 Under 40

I offer my sincere congratulations to the new 20 Under 40 class for their accomplishments in their field and for our community. As the CEO of Heart of Missouri United Way, I know how important it is for our emerging leaders to focus on the value of giving back. I recently had the honor and privilege of attending the 20 Under 40 reception and fundraiser to celebrate this year’s recipients and speak to the work of United Way.  

I was humbled by the class’s collective efforts in organizing the auction to support Heart of Missouri United Way’s Read Across Columbia program. Coming together, they showcased the power of being united in purpose, action, impact, and hope for our community’s most vulnerable — especially our youth.  

The silent auction they put together included many items and opportunities donated by local individuals and businesses, such as a Pasta La Fata Wine Dinner, Lakota Coffee for a Year, and a football signed by Coach Drinkwitz. Our local community came together to not only donate incredible items and experiences, but also to place bids. Our community demonstrated that they, too, are united in purpose, action, impact, and hope, and helped raise $5,000 to provide books to our children.

The Read Across Columbia program places free books in the hands of hundreds of first and second graders, specifically those who attend Title One elementary schools in the Columbia Public School District. These elementary schools have the highest free-and-reduced lunch rates and lowest reading proficiency scores, and foster the education of the most diverse students in our district. 

We have seen the trending local challenges that our young students and their families face, and how third grade reading proficiency scores have declined by more than 8 percent since the start of the pandemic (Boone Indicators Dashboard). Third grade is when students switch from learning to read to reading to learn. This important educational switch is significant in their future success. 

We know reading proficiency is extremely difficult to achieve when combined with other common struggles related to poverty, like food insecurity, and healthy, safe, and affordable housing. We recognize that as we work with teachers and schools in helping to foster a love of reading, we will help these young students achieve academic and lifelong success. We work together to remove barriers to education and create and invest in programs to help these students thrive.

Due to the success of the 20 Under 40 auction, we can provide even more books for our kids. These books help remove barriers to literacy and show these students that our community cares. 

The United Way team and I appreciate this year’s 20 Under 40 class for selecting Read Across Columbia, and for all who purchased auction items that helped make this fundraiser a success and make a difference for our community. Each dollar raised, each book donated, and each hour volunteered will contribute to a brighter future for our kids. 

You can learn more about United Way’s Read Across Columbia Program at  

Andrew Grabau has served as the President and CEO of the Heart of Missouri United Way since 2015.

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