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Education: How We Help

Education is a cornerstone for success in school, work and life. It also benefits the whole community: High school graduates have higher earning potential, contribute more to their local economies, are more engaged in their communities, and are more likely to raise kids who also graduate, and go on to higher education or work.

Strong, productive communities are dependent upon a skilled workforce that can compete in a global economy. It’s not enough to intervene in high school. It is critical to reaching children early — even before they start school. Once a young person falls behind, it can be very difficult to catch up. And if a child isn’t reading at grade level by 3rd grade, they may never catch up. United Way is working to change that, helping to ensure that every child has a chance for success in school, work and life by investing in programs that produce results. This philosophy has been the reason for our investment in the Master Teacher Program to help support early childhood education. This program provides 160 hours of hands on training for VPK and 3/4 year old teachers in daycare settings at no charge. You can learn more about the results of this program by reading the Master Teacher Program page. If you would like to learn more about this program contact Thawanna Hurge at

United Way is about more than short-term charity for a few; we’re about lasting solutions that build opportunity for all. We look at the big picture to assess which resources are lacking or need strengthening, then we address those gaps to keep kids on track to graduation and beyond.


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Early Childcare Conference

Join fellow teachers and educators at our annual Early Childcare Conference

More Information on our 2023 Conference Coming Soon

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Master Teacher Program Contact

Thawanna Hurge
352-787-7530 Ext. 240

Education Agenda


We ensure children and youth learn and grow by helping them achieve crucial development milestones, graduate high school on time and thrive in the job market.










Education Program Success Stories

Supporting Tutors for Kids

Our goal is to reward tutored students with a book each month. Also, at the close of school and at the holiday break, each student in a class where a tutor works receives a book (even those tutors who do not receive tutoring). Here are some comments from the students & teachers:

In a 6th grade class, I had been working with a boy on multiplication and/division of decimals. He was doing pretty well, but has a speech defect. So I occasionally didn’t understand him, but he read me a word problem and gleefully announced, “I know EXACTLY what to do!” – and he did. In fact, the teacher decided he no longer needed to come to me and switched me to a different student for the next session.
Thank you for bringing in books for us to read. We really appreciate it, because it is always nice to have a good book to read. So thank you very much.” Sydney

Providing Scholarships

Greta EllisGretta Ellis graduated from the Take Stock in Children program at South Sumter High School in 2004 after joining the program in 10th grade. The help she received after an injury in high school led her to an interest in health care. Even then, her areas of interest included becoming a registered nurse. She credits the program with helping her achieve her dream of helping people in the medical field. If not for the scholarship she received through Take Stock, she may not be where she is today.

“I always knew that my future was in the medical field,” she says. “This scholarship helped me achieve my Associate degree in nursing, and I worked as a Registered Nurse in the emergency department. This scholarship set the basis for my educational platform.” Not only did Gretta benefit from the scholarship, but also from the support and encouragement she received through the program. The initial scholarship helped Gretta get started on her educational path, and she has since gone back to school to earn her Bachelor of Nursing, and just recently graduated with a Master’s Degree in Nursing. She will soon take the state board exam to become a Family Nurse Practitioner.

Early Childhood Programs Make a Difference

EL ClarkeI am a single mom and I was working and providing for my first child and paying for childcare. I found myself pregnant again and I found myself in a situation where I needed help. As I was unable to afford paying for childcare for two children. I asked my daycare did they know of any programs that would help my pay for childcare. The daycare told me about the School Readiness Program. I was able to apply and get the help I needed to pay for my children’s child care while I worked to provide for us.

My children could learn and be around other children and be in a safe environment. I did not have to worry while I was working. This program has helped me better myself for the future. Thank you, United Way of Lake and Sumter, for funding this awesome program!

-Jerrica Thurber

ELC SumterThe McCormick Family has grown! After serving as caregivers for their 4 grandchildren, Mr. and Mrs. McCormick have legally adopted the children. Mrs. McCormick praises the financial assistance received via the School Readiness Program as a result of the United Way of Lake & Sumter Counties Community Investment Grant. “The kids are doing much better, they have some things to work through, but the staff at the preschool have been so helpful.” The McCormick family owns their own business in Lake Panasoffkee. The financial assistance with preschool and after school costs allows the McCormick’s to continue to operate their business in the most cost effective manner. The partnership between the Early Learning Coalition and United Way is making a difference in the lives of children and families in Sumter County.

Helping Children Recover from Grief

13-year-old “Ellie” lost her best friend “Rosie”. They both loved The Simpsons and Friends and playing The Sims on the computer and became best friends very quickly. Rosie’s illness started when she had a cold that she couldn’t get rid of and seemed a bit like the flu. When she didn’t seem to be getting better she was admitted to the hospital. After a few months she was sent home, but she suddenly had a relapse and was taken back to the hospital. Ellie never saw her again. Her granddad had died earlier but this was different. She didn’t see him very often, whereas Rosie was an empty seat beside her in class. Ellie’s grades began to slip. That is when her teacher reached out to Cornerstone to get bereavement counseling for her.

At the first session, Ellie talked about Rosie without emotion. She admitted she had not cried about her loss. She was given an assignment, to read When a Friend Dies: A Book for Teens by Marilyn Grotman. This sensitive book answers questions grieving teens often have. The next time Ellie saw the counselor, she showed emotion for the first time. She needed something to verify that its ok to cry, and to feel sad, and to have fun again too. The book gave her that verification better than any grown up could, and the result is that her grades improved. UWLS funding purchased the book for E. and now she is sharing it with friends from school who also knew Rosie. Thank United Way of Lake and Sumter Counties helping our youth through the grieving process.

Supporting New Vision for Independence

Before Cyndi Jackson came to New Vision, she had lost her job – a career that she loved with a company she’d dedicated more than 20 years to – because of her visual impairment. She didn’t think she could be independence anymore, let alone work again. She found herself homebound, afraid to leave the house, afraid to cook, and depressed.

A few months into her training, Cyndi learned kitchen safety skills, how to ride the bus around town, and how to use her iPhone. She developed the confidence to join the Employability program at New Vision, which United Way of Lake and Sumter Counties helps support. Once in the program, she began attending job readiness and computer training. She updated her resume, mastered touch typing, and began her journey toward finding “a job that meant something”. Cyndi was hired by New Vision in May 2018. She is excelling at her job and is more independent than she’d ever been. “This program gave me my life back!”

Lake Tech Career Training

I enjoyed and had a great experience with the class including the teaching style of Mr. Dennis. The reason I was so sure is I wanted to be able to prove to my son that if I could finish and get my diploma at the age of 36, then he can do the same at the age of 18. I dropped out of school at age 17 because I got into some trouble, and I also had my son on the way and had to start working full-time. Upon my release from jail, I plan to continue my schooling at Lake Technical College. I want to get my degree in Welding so I can provide a better life for me and my family. I don’t want to ever come back to jail because this isn’t a place for me, and it doesn’t set a good example for my son. I want to prove to him and the rest of my family that I’m a better person and have learned something of value.

In conclusion to this, I would like to give a thank you to the United Way and anyone and everyone for sponsoring this program. If it wasn’t for this program, I might not have ever done this. I’m so proud to finally be able to say I have my diploma and mark that when I apply for jobs.

-M. Purl

Braining Acts Program Making a Difference

Jeminah is friendly and enthusiastic. Her smile and excitement for learning are contagious. She loves to tease and tell jokes and makes it her goal each day to bring joy to her teachers and classmates. Born into a Haitian American family, Jeminah’s first language was Creole. English is her second language. Reading comprehension is required for success in all subjects and consistently Jeminah has struggled. Jeminah’s 3rd Grade Reading and Math scores indicated that she was performing significantly below grade level. After 5 months in 4th grade and participating in our After School BrainyActs Program, Jeminah’s Mid-Year Assessments show that she is making significant progress and is on track for making grade level expectations by the end of the year assessments. Jeminah understands that her new success is directly related to the effort she has put in. She is now volunteering to read out loud and she has tools to help her when she does not comprehend what she is reading. We are very proud of her success! Thank you United Way for supporting this program.

Brianna is an 11 year old student who lives with her grandmother, 3 brothers,and 1 female cousin. She is a hard worker and an excellent leader. Brianna says that being in BrainyActs has taught her to “never give up… even if you have to put your project back together like 800 times!” She went on to explain that she has been successful in using this idea in other areas. “in math, I asked a friend to help me practice multiplying and dividing fractions with flash cards. At home, I taught myself to do a head stand and ride a bike!”

She has seen the most evidence of personal growth in her grades. “Last year I had C’s. This year I have been on the A/B Honor Role for all 4 terms.” Brianna’s favorite memory from her two years in the Brainy Acts Program was working with the elderly at the Groveland Senior Center. Her heart for helping others can also be seen in the classroom. Brianna began our performing below grade in reading and math. This year we are pleased to report that she will begin middle school with FSA scores for Reading, Math, and Science that are at or above grade level. Thank you United Way of Lake & Sumter Counties for funding this program. It is making a difference in our children’s education.

United Way is Making a Difference for Tavares Youth

Tavares High School student, Sheanna Darmalingum, was nominated as a delegate to the Congress of Future Medical Leaders. The congress will convene in Lower, Massachusetts on June 25-27, 2018.

The Congress is an honors-only program for high school students who want to become physicians or go into medical research. The purpose of the Congress is to honor, inspire, motivate, and direct the top students.

Sheanna Darmalingum was nominated to represent Tavares High School based on her academic achievement, leadership, and determination to serve in the field of medicine.

During the three-day congress, Sheanna Darmalingum will join other students from across the country. They will meet and hear Nobel Laureates and National Medal of Science Winners. Ivy League and top medical school deans will advise students on what to expect in medical school and how to prepare for college. Students will also learn about cutting-edge medical advances and the future of medicine and medical technology.

“This is a crucial time in America when we need more doctors and medical scientists,” said Richard Rossi, Executive Director of the National Academy of Future Physicians and Medical Scientists. “Focused, bright and determined students like Sheanna Darmalingum are our future, and she deserves all the mentoring and guidance we can give her.”

The Academy provided a scholarship for tuition to attend the Congress. The expense of travel, room, and board is expensive. Sheanna’s family did not know how they would be able to afford the cost. A family friend suggested they contact United Way of Lake and Sumter Counties.

“When I learned about Sheanna’s opportunity to attend this Congress, I knew right away she had to go,” said Dr. Alan Holden, President and CEO of United Way of Lake and Sumter Counties. “We need bright, talented students like Sheanna in the medical field.”

United Way of Lake and Sumter Counties awarded Sheanna a $1000 scholarship. Sheanna and her mother, Sonia McKay, will fly to Boston in June to represent Tavares High School and Lake County, Florida.