Cheryl Lombardi, a longtime Aetna employee, first heard about serving as a school reader from a fellow co-worker. “I thought, what a great opportunity!” she recalls. “Over my years as a volunteer, we’ve established really special bonds with the kids we read to. I often feel that we get more out of it than they do.”

Mrs. Lombardi is a member of the United Way Readers program, a group of volunteers that formed four years ago under the guidance of Patrick Doyle, the Senior Engagement Officer at United Way of Central and Northeastern Connecticut. United Way wanted to create meaningful volunteer opportunities for corporations like Aetna, and COMPASS’s position as a resource coordinator within schools made for a perfect match.

burns_slider_3The reading program runs once a week, with volunteers reading one-on-one with students during 30 minute blocks. United Way Readers serve several schools, including Asian Studies Academy. Damion Morgan, the COMPASS Director at Asian Studies, sums up the value: “For struggling readers, the program provides the individual attention that they need, and it allows them to develop relationships with caring adults.”

The Aetna partnership has made a particular impact on nearby Burns Latino Studies Academy. In addition to providing readers, Mr. Doyle cites initiatives like Recess Rocks, a program in which Aetna volunteers facilitate recreational activities, and Aetna’s support for Read Across America Day as further proof points of Aetna’s commitment to moving kids and families forward. That impact is driven by a collaborative dialog between Aetna, COMPASS, and United Way of Central and Northeastern Connecticut. “Brenda Pabon, Aetna’s Program Consultant for Community Relations, has a great pulse on Aetna’s capacity to mobilize volunteers, and Elizabeth Giannetta-Ramos, the COMPASS Director, understands the immediate needs of the kids and families,” he explains. “United Way provides the volunteer management, and between the three organizations, we can make great things happen.”

For more information on how to serve as a United Way Readers volunteer, click here.