Vucurevich Foundation donates $450,000 to Black Hills Reads

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United Way Black Hills Reads

Black Hills Reads, an early reading proficiency program through United Way of the Black Hills, received a $450,000 donation Tuesday from the John T. Vucurevich Foundation.

Alan Solano, president/CEO of the Vucurevich Foundation, said the mission of Black Hills Reads fits right in to the priorities of John Vucurevich.

"John really put an emphasis — and we can see this when we look at his personal gift — John really, really believed that education was the key to helping people, those who are struggling, those who are in poverty, those who were trying to reach themselves out of poverty — education was the key part in being able to accomplish that," Solano said. "The mission of the (Foundation) is to invest in organizations to enhance the quality of life for disadvantaged individuals and families with an emphasis on prosperity."

Black Hills Reads provides programs and funding to help build reading proficiency at the third-grade level. Kayla Klein, the program's director, said 54% of South Dakota third-graders are not reading proficient.

"Black Hills Reads focuses on reducing this statistic learning gap, and get children reading proficiently by the end of third grade," she said.

At the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020, Klein said the organization knew there would be an impact on young children's educational development. A 2019 needs assessment helped Black Hills Reads to prepare for a systems change in how they approach reading proficiency.

The needs assessment showed the biggest challenge was early childhood care providers and the lack of resources in that area.

"Forty-three percent of people in South Dakota live in a child care desert — very little to zero child care providers in their area," Klein said. "Another challenge is that 75% of children in South Dakota ages 6 and under, have both parents in the workforce, which is one of the highest in the United States."

Black Hills Reads' goal is to close the school readiness gap and help families gain the tools necessary to achieve the greatest success in preparing their children for kindergarten.

"Together, with our community partners, United Way of the Black Hills is working to ensure children enter school ready to learn, improve early reading proficiency, increase attendance, and raise graduation rates," Klein said.

During the pandemic, Black Hills Reads provided grants and loans to keep early child care facilities open. Klein said the skills children learn at such an early age is a critical component to reading proficiency. The funding from the Vucurevich Foundation will assist Black Hills Reads to continue their programs over the next three years.

Various school readiness programs through Black Hills Reads provide items like "Baby's First Book Bag," a collection of early literacy materials, developmental check lists, and other community literacy resources. Other programs allow families to connect with teachers to help every child to have the resources in-home and in school to succeed.

Black Hills Reads also provides summer learning programs for young readers.

"The engagement with early reading success is critical to the future of our state," Klein said. "It has a long-lasting impact to help kids have the tools they need to be successful through adulthood."

For more information on Black Hills Reads, visit

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