The new initiative partners willing community members with students in kindergarten through third grade to help foster improved reading skills and comprehension.
"We take volunteers from all over the community, and they don't have to be people with an education background," explained United Way's Kate Bauer.
The United Way trains volunteers how to read aloud to a child, how to talk to a child and how to ensure the child understands what they've read.
"They not only are teaching the child reading skills, but they're really teaching them that reading is fun, reading is something to look forward to each week, and a large part of that is built out of the relationship they develop with the child," said Bauer.
The United Way hopes to have 400 Reading Pals volunteers for Hillsborough and Pinellas Counties. Volunteers have to commit one hour a week to the program, and organizers say the time is a major benefit to the kids.
"A lot of research has been done showing that if a child isn't reading on a grade level by the end of third grade they're four times more likely to drop out of high school," Bauer said.
In all, 10 communities across Florida are participating in the Reading Pals initiative.