407-823-3094 LiveUnited@ucf.edu

By Matthew Melendez |

The United Way Day of Action projects promote literacy around central Florida.  The UCF United Way Campaign leadership team participated in a 2015 Day of Action project at IMPOWER, a United Way partner agency serving children in need of foster care and adoption.  You can learn more about IMPOWER here: http://www.impowerfl.org.

Like most philanthropies, service work is encouraged to help engage donors and campaign volunteers with the community organizations they help support. United Way offers many such opportunities, like the Day of Action. This year, our Day of Action volunteer event was hosted with Impower. Impower is a non-profit that offers a continuum of care for children, adolescents, adults, and families focused on addressing mental and behavioral health and child-well-being. During our event we specifically worked with youth, both in and out of foster care. We created Ice Cream recipes and then had actual Ice Cream!

The ratio between youth and volunteer must have been around 10:1. The ages ranged from new born to 13. As intimidating as this definitely was I did not let them see me sweat. There was a need and I chose to address it. I was improving literacy through guiding them in creating ice cream recipes. Spelling, grammar, pronunciation, etc.

While assisting, a couple of incidents stood out:

All of them were extremely self-aware. They understood what it meant to foster. They had no problem introducing me to their biological and foster siblings. In fact, there was a sense of excitement and pride behind it.

They LOVED individual attention. I did my best to work with all of them one-on-one for even the briefest of moments. What amused me were the ways they would try to regain my attention once I started helping someone else. From questions to comments; from artistic demonstrations to compliments; and everything in between, they wanted their moment and I was there to give it to them.

Many were just as excited writing about ice cream as they were to eat it. I figured they, being children, would want to speed through the written parts and do whatever they can to get ice cream. I was wrong. They enjoyed this opportunity to be self-expressive. Many stood longer than necessary just to write a second recipe or draw additional pictures.

With all of this said, my biggest take away was how we indirectly affected the children’s families. All families needed to attend a workshop. But, like most, paying for child care or taking a day off work is not an option. By hosting this event, we were able to accommodate these concerns. While we worked with their children, the parents were able to attend the workshop in the next room over. The parents were beyond appreciative of this.

Not only were we able to make an impact on childhood literacy, we were also able to increase the quality of their family dynamic by empowering the adults. What else could I have asked for

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Matthew Melendez serves as the student assistant supporting the United Way campaign and other university efforts to support UCF’s impact on local charities.

The United Way Day of Action volunteer events are scheduled during the summer to combat Summer Reading Loss.  UCF participates by hosting a book drive and providing volunteers at these events.