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Harnessing the power of business in new ways for 2020

Posted by: Bernie Dagenais on Friday, December 20, 2019 at 9:00:00 am

As a lifelong journalist who became a chamber of commerce CEO 10 years ago, I’ve gone through my life with lots of questions. How do we solve a particular public policy problem? What do successful businesses have in common? How do outstanding leaders get buy-in that lead to uncommon achievements?

One persistent question has been – what is the role of business in helping to ensure children are educated to become the workforce we need for the future – for their own good, for the good of our companies and for the good of our economy?

Superintendent of Schools Dr. William Hite, a gifted leader who is dedicated to the gargantuan task of improving schools, has one of the better answers I’ve heard. Help students read on grade level by fourth grade and schools have a better chance of teaching them other lessons as they grow. 

The Department of Justice reports that two out of three children who aren’t reading on grade level will end up in prison or on welfare. If students aren’t reading at grade level by the end of third grade, they become four times more likely to drop out of high school. It’s an issue in Montgomery, Delaware and Chester County – not just Philadelphia.

One great answer is Vello, a program the United Way of Greater Philadelphia and Southern New Jersey is undertaking with support from Wells Fargo, Chubb, Comcast, Amerihealth Caritas, Greenberg Traurig Law, UPS, Women United as well as local nonprofit partners RSVP, Global Citizen, Read By 4th. Thanks to their support, United Way has plans to launch the program in early 2020 in 30 classrooms in Norristown and Philadelphia at no cost to participating companies.

Vello (see is a one-on-one online tutoring platform for volunteers and 1st through 3rd grade students. Volunteers don’t have to travel to a school and students don’t have to be transported. The commitment per employee is only a half hour each week from a desk at work.

Vello has been used successfully elsewhere to outstanding results. That’s why I announced last week at our Greater Philadelphia Summit on Business Impact & Volunteerism that The Main Line Chamber of Commerce is seeking 40 volunteers so we can serve a classroom in Norristown and one in Philadelphia. Will you help personally? Is there someone at your company we can talk with about this as well?

Please email me directly at and put Vello in the subject line, if you would like additional information.

Click here to read the December issue of the newsletter.


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