February 7, 2018
My name is Reana Shah, and my mother taught me how to read when I was only three years old. I am an only child, so the characters in the books I read became my best friends. I spent hours after school and during summer break diving into great literature. In elementary school, I loved to read the John Newbery Award winners as soon as they hit my small-town library’s shelves. By junior high I was reading at a college level and switched to philosophy, exploring the metaphysical world through the eyes of Ayn Rand, Immanuel Kant, and others. In high school, my favorite books were autobiographies because I find the human experience to be incredible. My life is still enriched by my love of reading, and I often immerse myself in books about religion, finance, career success, or personal growth.
Considering my background, you can imagine my shock when I volunteered at Readers in the Heights last summer and realized how many early elementary school students didn’t have basic reading skills. The children I met opened my eyes and strengthened my desire to support United Way’s work around literacy. Through United Way, I learned that if a student isn’t reading on grade level by third grade, they are four times more likely to drop out of high school – and if that child is in poverty, they end up being six times more likely to drop out. If I can help just one child learn to read, he or she will do better in school and have more opportunities. To me, there is no greater joy.
It was United Way’s mission to change the odds for student and families that drew me in, but over the six years of my involvement, I have enjoyed many other aspects of their work as well. I love meeting new people at Emerging Leaders Council (ELC) networking events, and I always learn a lot from the professional development workshops and leadership speakers. My experiences with the ELC prompted me to get more involved by joining the ELC Steering Committee, and in early 2018 I became the ELC Steering Committee Chair.
This year, I hope to help deepen the connection ELC members have with each other and to United Way’s work in the community. We have great events planned, including networking, volunteering, professional development workshops, the “Lunch with a Leader” series, and mentoring opportunities for our members. I know I’ll learn a lot from these experiences. I hope you'll join me!