Rallying the Community to Help Students Succeed

Group O’s Maria Ontiveros: ‘Literacy is a powerful tool against poverty’

Between being a mother to an 18-month-old baby, working as the Corporate Community Liaison at Group O, and giving back through her various other roles, Maria Ontiveros has a pretty full plate. Still, no matter how busy she gets, one thing that she always has time to dish out is support for the community.

Maria Ontiveros

For over a year, Ms. Ontiveros has volunteered for United Way Quad Cities’ volunteer youth literacy program, Read United QC. In fact, Group O is a supporting partner of the community-wide initiative to help kindergarten through third-grade students improve their reading proficiency.

“Literacy is a powerful tool against poverty. My late grandfather Bob Ontiveros who founded Group O, always said the only way out of poverty is through education,” she said. “Reading is the baseline of education. It’s a needed skill to seek out information and gain a better understanding of the world we live in.”

The founder of Mercado on Fifth, Ms. Ontiveros knows firsthand how reading makes a difference. While in college, she taught abroad in Northern Thailand. She says her mother also instilled the importance of reading to her and her siblings.

“My mom always read to us as we were going to bed. The school I attended emphasized reading through many programs in library class,” she said. “We had reading competitions in middle school. I’m fortunate to have had adults who emphasized reading while growing up.”

She now hopes to spread the love of reading to her daughter and Quad Cities youth. She says being on the board for United Way opened her eyes to how integral Read United QC is in the community.

“Even if I weren’t on the board, this would be something that Group O would support because we truly value education and its ability to contribute to economic growth, reduce poverty and reduce crime,” she said. “On a personal level, learning how to read can increase self-esteem and empowerment. These are all things our company values.”

She hopes to see her neighbors and the wider community stand up for these same values.

Young girl holding a book

Volunteers are Helping Students See Their Potential

Read United was launched in early 2022 in response to alarming data collected by United Way and school districts across the Quad Cities, which showed a decline in youth reading proficiency as a result of the COVID-related learning disruptions.

“Over 65% of our children were not reading at a grade level. This is a big issue,” she said.

United Way along with its partners like Ms. Ontiveros and Group O, as well as hundreds of volunteers, acted quickly to help get students back on track.

Within six months, more than 575 Quad Citizens stepped up to help students in need. And first-semester results paint a hopeful picture. 92% of students who participated in the Read United initiative showed improvement.

Since the fall, another 300 volunteers have raised their hand to help struggling readers. And schools are asking for another 200 volunteers to help students this spring with weekly one-on-one help.

With the support of Ms. Ontiveros, Group O and caring neighbors like you, together, we can help more of our students to graduate prepared to succeed in college or career.

Become a Reading Volunteer

Help a student get back on track in school, through weekly one-on-one reading. Multiple times and availabilities are available through various Quad Cities districts.

Find a volunteer time that fits your schedule.

Special thank-you to Read United’s supporting partners, Group O and the Quad-City Times, as well as the companies and organizations who are choosing to set our kids up for success.

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