United Way’s campaign to teach children about poverty: Pass the Grade game

This post is part of the Social Good Sunday series in which I highlight different organizations around the world making the world a better place. 

Poverty is a tough topic to comprehend. It is tragic, dark, unfair and cruel.  A way of life that doesn’t make sense in a world that has so much for some and so little for the rest. If poverty is hard to understand as an adult, imagine how confusing it is to understand such a difficult topic for children.

Many children in my community have everything they need and most likely too much. They generally have all the latest toys, more than enough food on their table, a home to live in and a family to love. However, once you step outside of Southwest Minneapolis, the picture is dramatically different. Children live in poverty, don’t always have enough to eat at night and struggle immensely in school. The inequities are surprising and often astounding.

According to numbers released in September by the U.S. Census, the percentage of children living in poverty in Minnesota continues to grow.

“Now 80,000 more children are living in poverty compared to 2000 (114,000), an increase of about 70 percent. Officially, an estimated 194,000 (15.4 percent) children were living in poverty in Minnesota in 2011, a trend that has continued to increase for more than 10 years. Compared to last year, the number increased only slightly by 2,000 children from 192,000 in 2010”.

I often find that our middle class children live in a bubble and grow up rarely being exposed to what the rest of the world lives like and even more so, what a large percentage of kids in their own city live like. In poverty. If it is hard for adults to understand poverty, it is  oftentimes even more challenging for children to understand the full impact of poverty on families and kids themselves.

In honor of the first ever Giving Tuesday, a new day to give back to the community that was launched on November 27th, The Greater Twin Cities United Way* launched a fun, educational online game cleverly called “Pass the Grade“. In “Pass the Grade”, players will experience four challenges that teach about the trials children in poverty have to overcome to succeed in school.  What is so impressive about Pass the Grade is that it accomplishes two important goals: First, it educates children about other kids living in poverty in a fun, engaging way. Second, it also raises money for educational programs with each game played.

Here are some details about the fundraising piece of the campaign (all information below provided by Greater Twin Cities United Way):

  • Campaign was launched on “Giving Tuesday”  – November 27, 2012 and runs through December 31 2012. 
  • Ecolab, Inc. is committing a total of $30,000 to the effort on two fronts: For each person who plays the game, found at www.uwpassthegrade.org, Ecolab Inc. will donate $1 to United Way’s Pass the Grade Campaign up to a maximum $10,000.  For each person who donates after playing the game, Ecolab will also contribute a dollar-for-dollar match, up to $20,000.

The goal of United Way’s Pass the Grade Campaign is to help 7,500 kids pass the grade in 2013. Here are some examples on how playing this game helps children living in poverty:

  • $5 provides a hungry child with snacks for a school week.
  • $22 will help one child receive one-on-one reading help.
  • $33 provides a child with enriching after-school programs.
  • 5,000 kids will get a healthy snack at school.
  • 1,500 kids will receive one-on-one tutoring and reading help.
  • 1,000 kids will take part in enriching after-school programs.

The game, developed by Space 150 and supported by U.S. Bank, takes players through four unique challenges that test if they have what it takes to pass the third grade. (Students who fall behind by third grade are four times more likely to drop out of high school.) After each challenge, statistics on childhood poverty are shared. Upon completion of the game, a grade is given to the player. Players are then asked to share their results via social media to encourage additional donations. 

“Tackling the challenge of poverty and making a difference in a child’s life can’t be done alone, it must be a community effort,” says Greater Twin Cities United Way Senior Vice President of Marketing Kathy Hollenhorst.  She continues, “In playing Pass the Grade, one learns about the impact of poverty on a child’s educational advancement, while at the same time learning about how to make a difference in the community.  With our regions’ philanthropic spirit, we at United Way believe that together we can help all children get the quality early education they need to succeed in school – and in life.”

Ok….now I’m going to ask everyone to play the game! I just played the game and I failed! I failed at passing but I sure learned a lot about kids living in my community in poverty. Here is what I learned.

About Greater Twin Cities United Way:

Greater Twin Cities United Way addresses our community’s most critical issues by focusing on three key areas: Basic Needs, Education and Health. We attack poverty on multiple, interconnected fronts to achieve lasting change – through 10 measurable goals – by collaborating with business, government and nonprofit organizations to create solutions and carry out our call to action to LIVE UNITED by encouraging everyone to Give. Advocate. Volunteer. United Way serves people living in or near poverty in nine counties: Anoka, Carver, Chisago, Dakota, Hennepin, Isanti, Ramsey, Scott and western Washington. Join the movement. LIVE UNITED.

For more information, visit www.unitedwaytwincities.org

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