By Elisa Vazquez
Courtesy of Dixon United Way

Carolina Panthers’ Cam Newton is nominated for the GMC “Never Say Never” Moment of the Week.

This week’s presidential election was positive proof that voting changes outcomes. We’re fortunate to live in a country where our opinions and preferences matter regardless of race, religion or gender. When we exercise our right to vote, we can change our lives, our communities, our nation and ultimately our world.

That philosophy works in things big and small. For example, at the start of the football season, United Way teamed up with GMC to increase literacy rates and improve test scores in NFL-market schools through an eMentoring program tied to the GMC “Never Say Never” Moment of the Week. Each week, three NFL players are recognized for an on-field play that best represents determination and perseverance. Fans are asked to vote on the best play. The team that receives the most votes wins a United Way eMentoring classroom for their community.

I know, hats and horns — unless you understand the impact that a caring adult can have in the life of a child. Research proves that engaged volunteers working with students of all ages have the power to help kids boost academic achievement and reading scores. That’s important because one in four American kids will not graduate high school on time. The fact is, reading is linked to high school success. Children learn to read for the first few years of school, but after fourth grade, they’re reading to learn. Without strong reading skills, they fall behind, disengage and often drop out.

United Way’s eMentoring program connects third to sixth grade students with caring eMentors. Over the course of the school year, volunteer eMentors read five student-selected books and discuss them with the student mentee via guided online letters. The adult-student pen pal relationship provides essential support for the development of the student’s reading, writing and critical-thinking skills. Powered by ePals, this evidence-based, award-winning program is designed to meet Common Core State Standards and is proven to increase literacy rates and test scores in schools nationwide.

So while we congratulate our United Way TEAM NFL ambassador Cam Newton of the Carolina Panthers for leading his team to victory over the Washington Redskins, we know that a vote for Newton, Isaac Redman of the Pittsburgh Steelers or Andrew Luck of the Indianapolis Colts will ultimately lead to more kids succeeding in school. And that’s definitely a vote worth casting. Click here to submit your vote today and join players from your favorite team in their efforts to help United Way cut the high school dropout rate in half at unitedway.org/team-nfl.

Elisa Vazquez is a United Way TEAM NFL intern and a recent graduate of Luther College.

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