Alison and Chris Durham both came from modest beginnings in small-town, single-parent households in North Carolina. They grew up knowing the value of a helping hand. Now, a successful podiatrist and oral surgeon respectively, Alison and Chris knew when they had their two children, Channing (3) and Emory (1), they wanted them to know what it means to give back.

“It is very important to us to make a difference in our community and our plan is to pass this along to our children.” said Alison. “Children helping children is very impactful and will pave the way to a future of humanitarianism.”

When planning Channing’s second birthday party, the couple discovered “Milk and Bookies,” an organization that helps collect books for children who cannot afford their own. They asked their friends to bring a book to the birthday party instead of a gift for their collection. The Durham’s then reached out to United Way of Greater Greensboro to make sure the books got into the hands of local children who needed them most through United Way’s Thriving at 3 Early Childhood Initiative.

“The younger kids didn’t fully understand, but they enjoyed doodling on the name plates that were placed inside the book covers, placing their books in the box and of course enjoying the milk and cookies after,” said Alison.

Language and literacy development begins at birth; and parents have the greatest influence of a child’s exposure to words. Studies have shown that by age three, children in middle and upper class families have heard 30 million more words than children living at or below the poverty line. Children living at or below the poverty line, more often, enter kindergarten with poorer language skills, and this language gap widens as they progress through school. Much of this disparity can be attributed to “exposure to words” –parents talking, singing, and reading to their infants and toddlers.

“Our hope is that our children become leaders and philanthropists no matter what path they take in life.”

“In our work, we have an opportunity to meet parents where they are and highlight those ‘teachable moments’ of small things they can do in their daily routines with their children,” said Traci McLemore, manager of community initiatives at United Way of Greater Greensboro. “Sharing a book at bath or bedtime is one.”

Thriving at 3, United Way of Greater Greensboro’s Early Childhood Initiative, operates under a very simple premise: children who are healthy physically and emotionally by age 3 are more likely to be successful in school and in life. Services and programming are focused on providing parents with the skills and tools to assure their child enters Kindergarten “ready”.

The cycle of poverty is generational and education is critical to breaking this cycle. According to the Brookings Center on Children and Families, without a college degree 45% of the children from families in the bottom fifth of income will remain in the bottom fifth as an adult. From Where the Wild Things Are to Dr. Seuss’ I Can Read with My Eyes Shut, contributions like the Durham’s Milk and Bookies book drive are helping children discover a love of reading, which can help them succeed in school and in life.

In 2014, 110 children participated in United Way’s Thriving at 3 early literacy program, and had close to 60 books read to them during the program. Of the 100 children, 80% have improved their pre-literacy skills.

“Our boys are always excited to pick their books and sit on our lap for reading time. We know this enthusiasm for reading will transcend their entire life and help them fulfill their dreams.” said Alison. “To be able to share this amazing experience with other families who might not have books is truly heartwarming.”