550 Forest Avenue, Suite 100, Portland, ME 04101 info@uwsme.org 207-874-1000

Early Learning

Goal One: Give kids a strong start.

There are many factors that affect early learning – beginning at birth. Children and families must have their basic needs met, have access to quality early learning experiences so they are ready for Kindergarten, and must engage in literacy-promoting experiences. Working toward achieving these results drive the strategies around Goal 1.

Target: By 2027, reduce the reading proficiency gap to no more than 10 percentage points between all third-grade students and students from populations with historical inequities. 

2020 Baseline: The gap between all students and specific groups ranges from 20-24%  

Only 65% of economically disadvantaged students read proficiently.


Nolan was born a perfectly healthy child. But when Nolan was 18 months old things changed. His interaction – babbling, eye contact, facial expressions, and gestures – stopped or was drastically different.

Just before Nolan turned 2, he was diagnosed with autism. “The doctors told me that he might never speak, and he would never live a life of his own,” said Allison, Nolan’s mother.

His parents never gave up hope. After trying a variety of strategies, when Nolan was 3, his preschool program introduced him to Melissa, a therapist from Northeast Hearing & Speech. Melissa used a variety of techniques to work with Nolan, but because progress was slow, she suggested an alternative communication device.

“This was a difficult decision for us,” said Allison. “As a parent, you want to hear your child’s voice. We were worried that he’d become dependent on the device and never want to talk.” Allison and Jason decided to trust the advice and give it a try.

Nolan used the device for a few months and then decided he didn’t need it anymore. “One day he just pushed it aside. It was like a switch flipped,” said Allison. “One of the first things he said to me was, ‘You are my Momma.’”

Today, Nolan has found his voice. Not only is he forming words and sentences, but his personality has blossomed, he effectively communicates his emotions, and he is ready to learn with his peers.

Do you know what your United Way donation looks like? It looks like strength. It looks like kids getting a strong start.

Northeast Hearing & Speech is a funded community partner of United Way of Southern Maine working to advance Thrive2027 Goal 1 (Give kids a strong start) by identifying and treating developmental delays early so that kids enter Kindergarten ready to learn.



Chris Hall (Co-Chair)
General Counsel and Director of Regional Initiatives
Greater Portland Council of Governments

Karen Garnett (Co-Chair)
Marketing and Communications Consultant
Diverse Anecdote LLC

Camelia Babson-Haley
Executive Director
Youth & Family Outreach

Michelle Conners
Library Director
Kennebunk Free Library

Dan Eagleson
Senior Vice President
The Baker Company

Caitlin Grant
Director of Economic and Workforce Development
York County Community College

Allegra Hirsh-Wright
Director of Clinical Innovation
Maine Behavioral Healthcare

Peter Lancia
Westbrook School Department

Sarah Lewis
Program Coordinator
Maine Access Immigrant Network

Louise Marsden
Vice President, Family and Early Childhood Education
The Opportunity Alliance

Robin Mullins
Executive Director/CEO 
Sebago Lakes Region Chamber of Commerce

Katie Soucy
Starting Strong

Daniel Strader
Pierce Atwood LLP

See full list of Thrive2027 cabinet members here

*Maine Department of Education. Maine Assessment and Accountability Portal (2018)