Last month community members, from kids to corporate leaders, gathered at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex for a Literacy Kit assembling event with the United Way of Southwestern Pa., putting together packets for kindergarten through second graders at the Pittsburgh Public Schools.
"This is part of our 100,000 books initiative, which is trying to get 100,000 books into the hands of local children," said Wendy Koch, the Director of Volunteer Engagement for United Way of Southwestern Pennsylvania. "We understand the importance of reading on grade level. By the time you are in third grade if you don't you are four times more likely not to graduate. We really want to encourage children to read and provide them with one of their own books so they understand and can really develop that love of reading."
On Tuesday, Trey Edmunds and Marcus Allen took some of those Literacy Kits to Langley School, delivering the packets and reading to the kids.
"There is nothing more important than getting kids reading at a young age," said Steelers President Art Rooney II. "There is so much research that shows how important that is. It's great for these people to come out on a night like this to volunteer to help pack the reading kits. I am sure it's going to go a long way.
Marcus Allen and Trey Edmunds spent the afternoon reading to children and handing out literacy kits provided by United Way at Langley K-8
The kits were all packed with a book, a book mark with literacy tips for families, crayons, a teddy bear and a United Way 2-1-1 guide card to help families navigate through difficult times.
And while getting the kits was big for the kids, having the players there to read to them took it to another level.
"Anytime you do anything for kids it's important," said Edmunds. "They look at us as role models. Whenever I have the opportunity to do anything to give back, I try to take full advantage it. And the literacy aspect, reading to them, it's key.
"The literacy numbers aren't as high as they used to be. Just being able to provide a little spark to them and show them that you can be in the same position I am, but you have to know how to read and realize how essential it is in everyday life. It is really important."
While encouraging the kids to read was the most important aspect, having fun was also a key as the players danced and got the kids excited as well.
"Reading is important in everyday life, especially when you are a kid," said Allen. "If you read every day it's going to help you later down the road. Dancing with the kids, interacting with them, having them hype was fun. And passing out the gifts to the kids was important because a lot of the kids in the city don't have that every day, especially at Christmas time."