Helping children and youth reach their potential in school and in the community.


United Way is creating lasting change in the community by positively impacting education in Olmsted County. When children and youth have strong, stable learning and growing environments, they can be more successful in achieving lifelong success and reaching their potential. 


Did you know...

  • Literacy is a critical skill for school, work and life success. 46% of Olmsted County third graders do not read at grade level by the end of grade three.
  • More than 12% of Olmsted County high schoolers do not graduate in 4 years. Black, Hispanic, and multiracial students are significantly less likely than their white and Asian peers to receive the support they need to graduate on time. 
  • Every $1 invested in out-of-school-time programs results in a $10.51 return with the benefits of improved school performance, reduced crime and welfare costs, and increased wages.

United Way and our community partners fight for:

  • Access to quality childcare and early education
  • School readiness
  • Social-emotional learning opportunities
  • Safe, supportive out-of-school environments
  • Educational equity


To learn about our grants to help children meet their potential in school and in the community and the local partners we fund, click here.

To learn about local early learning resources, sign up for our United Way of Olmsted County Early Learning Newsletter!


United Way’s Education Programs

United Way of Olmsted County's Running Start for School is a community-wide backpack and school supply drive to ensure that every child in our community is prepared to succeed in school. Each year, we provide needed supplies to more than 2,500 students enrolled in participating schools across Olmsted County. To achieve our goal, we rely on the community to get involved by donating, hosting a collection, volunteering, and encouraging others to help our children and youth reach their potential in school and the community. Learn more.

United Way Born Learning Trails encourage exploration, turning everyday moments into learning opportunities. All are welcome to visit our newest Born Learning Trail located along the Silver Creek bike path near Three Links Park. It contains 10 interactive signs in English, Spanish, and Somali with activities to turn an outdoor trip into a fun learning experience. Learn more.

United Way of Olmsted County is committed to changing systems for the better, reducing disparities in educational outcomes so all children and youth have the opportunity to succeed. We do this by providing resources to families to promote early learning and development, improving access to high-quality early learning opportunities, and providing supportive services that promote learning. Dolly Parton's Imagination Library is one program that helps us reach this goal!

Through generous donations from United Way of Olmsted County donors, we provide one book each month to thousands of children in Olmsted County from birth to age 5 whose parents enrolled them. These sturdy, colorful, age appropriate books are delivered directly to the child. Each book is selected for the developmental benefits it brings - and for the fun. There is no charge, fee or donation required or expected to enroll. If you would like to donate, United Way of Olmsted County appreciates donations to offset costs of Dolly Parton's Imagination Library. The local cost of the program is $30.00 per child, per year.


Sign Up

Parents or guardians can register their child (or children) under five by submitting a registration form (In Spanish) to United Way of Olmsted County or by filling out the online registration form below. Forms are also available at the United Way of Olmsted County office.

We are currently serving at program capacity. You may experience an enrollment delay and be put on a short waiting list once your registration form has been received in our office. We will admit new children to the program on a first come, first serve basis.


Once enrolled, **Please allow at least 8 - 12 weeks for delivery. Not all books are shipped at the same time. Households enrolling children of different ages should expect books for each child to arrive at different times.


Change of Address

To ensure your child's books from Imagination Library reach their home, please complete a change of address form.



Share your experience with us!

Have you or your child received books from Dolly Parton's Imagination Library? Tell us about your experience with this program by filling out this form!


Rochester Public Schools and United Way have partnered together since 2017 to support the wholistic needs of students. Intentionally working together to improve student learning, build stronger families, and create a healthier community. Riverside Central and Gage Elementary Schools, as well as the Alternative Learning Center, John Marshall High School, and Phoenix Academy are considered full-service community schools. 


About Community Schools 

A community school is both a place and set of collective partnerships between Rochester Public Schools, United Way of Olmsted County, the individual school site, and other community resources. Its integrated focus on academics, health, social services, youth and community development, and community engagement leads to improved student learning, student well-being, stronger families, and healthier communities. The purpose of evolving schools into the community school model is to strategically and purposefully address barriers that students have to academic success. A full-service community school includes four pillars: expanded and enriched learning time and opportunities, active family and community engagement, integrated student supports and collaborative leadership and practices. See the Four Pillars Infographic for additional details. (Adapted from The Community Schools Playbook was produced for the Partnership for the Future of Learning by the Public Leadership Institute in partnership with the Coalition for Community Schools. 

The community school model involves all stakeholders to support students in achieving academic success and well-being. Community partners often are co-located in a school building to provide supports to students, their families, and the surrounding neighborhoods. Through this proximity, partners can build off and learn from one another. Through this partnership, teachers can focus on academics while partners provide support and services that support academic success. Stakeholders are involved in decision-making processes, planning and implementation of family engagement activities, and can utilize the school’s family resource room. 


United Way's Role 

United Way serves as the lead partner for the Rochester Community Schools Partnership. The community school model empowers teachers to focus on teaching while partners provide wrap-around services to students and their families, allowing each member of the partnership to do what they do best for those most in need: teachers teach, administrators administrate, facilitators facilitate and social workers handle social work. United Way’s primary role is to facilitate partners to develop new, stronger more effective ways of working together and to mobilize the entire community to improve educational, health, social, family, and economic results. 


Making a Collective Impact 

The community school’s effort, when fully implemented and functional, is an example of collective impact; bringing people together in a structured way to achieve social change. It is more than just co-location of programs. 

Collective impact starts with a common agenda, collectively defining the problem and creating a shared vision to solve it. Partners agree to track progress in the same way, allowing for continuous improvement. Collective impact fosters mutually reinforcing activities: meaning collective efforts are coordinated to maximize the end result. It encourages continuous communication to build trust and relationships among partners. Essential to a collective impact activity is a strong backbone organization, dedicated to orchestrating the work of the group. As lead partner agency, United Way fulfills this backbone role in the Rochester Community Schools Partnership. 

(Adapted from Collective Impact Forum) 


What is Cradle to Career?

In 2016, Cradle 2 Career started with a simple question, “Are our education investments making a difference in kids’ lives?” Rochester Rotary and United Way of Olmsted County decided the answer could be better. Fast forward, and we are an emerging StriveTogether community, and we are making a collective impact on the lives of Rochester’s youth.

We can achieve excellence for everyone by nurturing our shared community vision, empowering our partners to be courageous through data, mobilizing the best and equitable resources for children and their families, and by inspiring individuals to live boldly and collectively for positive change.