Bluffs, Raise Me to Read noted for pandemic response

Originally published: May 2, 2021

Bluffs, Raise Me to Read noted for pandemic response

The City of Council Bluffs, with the help of Southwest Iowa Raise Me to Read, has been named a 2021 Bright Spot Community by the Campaign for Grade-Level Reading for its innovative response to the COVID-19 crisis, according to a joint Family Inc./Grade Level Reading press release.

The campaign is honoring communities that developed exemplary or innovative responses to the COVID crisis, including new or adaptive roles, programs, organizational relationships/collaborations, policies and/or resources. In particular, the campaign is recognizing communities for crafting solutions that seem especially effective, replication-worthy and/or worth continuing during the post-COVID period.

“Family Inc. is honored to represent Council Bluffs in being recognized as a 2021 Bright Spot Community for our response to COVID-19,” said Kimberly Kolakowski, executive director, in the press release. “We used the opportunity to be innovative in our approach to services and meet the families we serve where they are through virtual home visits, the launch of our Mobile Wellness Unit and partnerships with community organizations to ensure books and literacy materials were delivered to homes.”

At the beginning of the COVID crisis, the Council Bluffs Community saw a tremendous rise in both community needs and outreach. In response to this, Family Inc. programs — including Southwest Iowa Raise Me to Read, Early Head Start, I-Smile and 1st Five — partnered with community meal distribution sites to provide activity and wellness kits, the press release stated. These kits included a book, activity sheet, information on free or low-cost health insurance, a toothbrush and information on Early Head Start services.

The City of Council Bluffs is also being recognized for its work to expand free, communitywide Wi-Fi to low-income areas in response to the need for remote learning, according to the press release. By leveraging COVID relief funds through the CARES Act, the City of Council Bluffs, Council Bluffs Community School District, Iowa West Foundation and Google — along with other partners — were able to ensure that all K-12 students received access to a Chromebook and to accelerate the completion of the BLink Wi-Fi network to cover the final 17% of the district.

In Pottawattamie County, the local GLR campaign is supported by the Iowa West Foundation and the United Way of the Midlands. Southwest Iowa Raise Me to Read, which is led by Family Inc., partners with over a dozen local organizations dedicated to early care and education.

Launched in 2010, the Campaign for Grade-Level Reading is a collaborative effort of funders, nonprofit partners, business leaders, government agencies, states and communities across the nation to ensure that many more children from low-income families succeed in school and graduate prepared for college, a career and active citizenship. Since then, the campaign has grown to include more than 300 communities representing 45 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands and two provinces in Canada with 5,000-plus local organizations and 510 state and local funders, including more than 200 United Way units. To learn more, visit and follow the movement on Twitter @readingby3rd.

Beginning in 1991, Family Inc. has served as a critical service provider in southwest Iowa. Family provides public health and Family support to women, children and families in the Pottawattamie and Mills County area. It is Family’s mission to empower families to build a strong foundation and healthy future through education, advocacy and support and community connection. This is done through a variety of programs, including early childhood home visitation, Early Head Start, the Iowa Care for Kids program, prenatal and newborn nursing visits, oral health screening and outreach, safety education, developmental screening and the Raise Me to Read early childhood literacy campaign.