United Way of Tucson and Southern Arizona Announces 2023 Literacy Champion Awards

United Way of Tucson and Southern Arizona conferred four prestigious awards in education at the 18th Annual Business Leaders for Early Education Breakfast hosted by Women United, a United Way affinity group.  

The sold-out event conferred three Literacy Champion awards to local educators, while introducing a new category, the Business Champion for Early Education Award, for an individual from the business community who has acted to advance early childhood education policy in a way that has created a community-wide impact.  

The three Literacy Champions included Dalexa Iglesias, Santa Rosa Head Start Program; Heidi Kornacki, Twin Peaks K-8 Elementary School; and Jennifer Campbell, Prince Elementary School.  The Business Champion for Early Education Award went to Kevin Volk of the Volk Company.

Community members, school administrators, principals, and parents nominated 13 teachers for this year’s awards. Each nomination went to the Women United Literacy Champion Committee which scored and ranked each nomination based upon a dedicated rubric. 

Dalexa Iglesias, with the Santa Rosa Head Start Program, is an education specialist with Child Parent Centers and has been working with children and families for the past 13 years. She grew up in a family of educators in a small community in Mexico and has always held a fierce passion for early childhood education. She said, “I started to fall in love with teaching and I realized education was my profession and life’s passion. I started working at Child Parent Centers where I continue to have the opportunity to grow not only as an early childhood professional but also personally. After studying hard, I now hold a bachelor’s degree in early childhood education.”

Heidi Kornacki with Twin Peaks K-8 Elementary School is a Tucson native who has worked at Twin Peaks K-8 for her entire teaching career. Since she was a young child, she always knew she wanted to be a teacher. She received a degree in elementary education at NAU before teaching Kindergarten for the nine years where her love of literacy education blossomed. Currently, she is a first-grade teacher where she continues to cultivate and nurture a love of reading in all her students. Kornacki said, “Watching young children come into my classroom must be one of the most rewarding parts of my job. These young children come to school unable to identify letters and sounds; however, when these students leave my classroom, they are confident readers. To see the growth of my students, watching the spark happen in these children when they start to read – I feel so much pride to have made a difference that will positively impact their future success and academics in life.”

Jennifer Campbell of Prince Elementary School is a native Tucsonan who works as a reading apecialist at Prince Elementary School, where she attended elementary school as a child. She grew up in the Amphi School District before pursuing a bachelor’s degree in communications at the University of Arizona. She worked for many years at her family business before pursuing an education degree at NAU where she found her true passion: teaching and advocating for structured literacy. She earned a master’s degree in education with a reading endorsement and felt compelled to bring her expertise back to her childhood neighborhood and school. Campbell said, “I feel a calling to serve and support this community. Literacy is a civil right and without it, access to all other civil rights is limited. Therefore, a focus on effective literacy instruction is of paramount importance because a student’s ability to read is one of the biggest indicators of future success. This is important not only to my students at Prince, but to society as a whole. When we create competent readers and writers, we create a better society.” 

Kevin Volk of Volk Company was presented with the Business Champion for Early Education Award. Volk is an active member of The Preschool Promise, a supporter of United Way of Tucson, and has a commitment to help bring early childhood education to all families in Southern Arizona. He has a passion for bringing early childhood education to the whole community from his experience in Teach for America. Additionally, he consistently provides an economic perspective on the rate of return on investment in early education and has consistently employed his business and legislative relationships to advocate for local and state funding for preschool scholarships. Kevin always comes through with innovative ideas and always follows through with action and enthusiasm for the equitable future of children and our community’s prosperity. He regularly communicates with policy and decision makers at the local and state levels about issues relating to early childhood education, clearly articulating the business value of providing affordable, accessible, high quality early education for every child. He can translate education talk into business talk, making the importance of early education easily understood by those who are unfamiliar. 

The title sponsor for this year’s event was Tucson Electric Power and the Literacy Champion Awards sponsor was Patrick Sniezek. The Business Champion for Early Education Award was sponsored by PNC Bank. Additional supporters included Gold Sponsors Casino del Sol and GEICO; Silver Sponsors Adelante Foundation, Pima Community College, Carondelet Health Network, Helios Education Foundation, and Northwest Healthcare; Copper Sponsors Caterpillar, CBIZ, DPR Construction, Hughes Federal Credit Union, Morgan Stanley, TMC Health, Pima County School Superintendent, BMO Wealth Management, Child and Family Resources, Pima Area Labor Federation (AFL-CIO), Hub, and Notre Dame Federal Credit Union.  Overall Corporate Sponsors were Freeport-McMoran and GEICO.

“We are always proud of our Women United team who put this amazing event together, work to gather nominations, and confer awards to some of the best and brightest educators in our community, educators who are committed to seeing our children learn and thrive,” said Tony Penn, president and CEO of United Way of Tucson and Southern Arizona.  “And we are so pleased that they have added the new award of Business Champion for Early Education, focusing on our business leaders who contribute so much to improving, quality, equity and access to early childhood care and education.  Our congratulations to all our nominees, especially to Dalexa, Heidi, Jennifer, and Kevin for their work in our community and for their commitment to our most precious resource, our children,” Penn said.

Last year’s breakfast, which was held both in-person as well as online, raised nearly $101,000 for early childhood literacy.

Pictured above from left to right –  Heidi Kornacki, Dalexa Iglesias, Valora Washington, president and CEO of Community Advocates for Young Leaders Institute, Jennifer Campbell, Kevin Volk
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