"I've been with the United Way for four years now," Fears said as he introduced himself, "but prior to that I was a teacher and administrator in the Vigo County School System, and I finished as principal of Terre Haute South (High School).
"We're going to talk a little bit today about some of the educational things that we do at the United Way. It's been a perfect fit for me as a former educator to do some of the stuff that we do at the United Way now."
Fears said sometimes the public isn't sure what the United Way does, but explained in essence, it raises money to fund various programs within community partners or agencies.
According to Fears, the United Way of Wabash Valley serves five Indiana counties in Vigo, Clay, Parke, Sullivan and Vermillion, as well as Clark County in Illinois.
"We (United Way of Wabash Valley) have 33 partner agencies that we fund programs for," Fears said. "Here in Clay County, I think we have six or seven partner agencies, the Y being our largest partner agency and then the Clay County Food Bank, the Senior Citizens Center and a couple others as well.
"But that's mainly what people know us for is trying to raise money, we run a campaign every fall and then dish out that money to those programs in the spring."
He said volunteers study the different programs to decide how much money to allocate to each one.
Fears then spoke about some of the specific programs the United Way has that affect Clay County, including Success by Six.
"Success by Six is our early childhood education component, and what it is in a nutshell is we are trying to get kids from birth to age 6 the skills they need to be successful for when they enter kindergarten or first grade (so) they will be successful in school," he said. "We have a variety of little programs underneath that Success by Six umbrella that we do to help kids in their education."
Fears said he was happy to be able to partner with Clay Community Schools throughout the last couple of years on a variety of different programs.
"One is called Stuff the Bus, and this is just not for pre-kindergarten kids," Fears said. "Stuff the Bus is a very simple program where we park a school bus in front of the Walmart for a day or two, and we just ask folks to donate school supplies. We were able to collect an entire (full length) school bus full of supplies last year and we gave that ... to the Clay Community Schools.
"How it normally works ... the schools and if a teacher knows a student can't afford to buy notepads or pens or paper, (the teacher) will go to the office to see if they have anything left from Stuff the Bus, and they will give it out. This is the second year we've done that."
The next program Fears talked about is called Reading Buddies.
"Reading Buddies is where we collect stuffed animals, either new or gently used stuffed animals, and we give them (after cleaning them up if needed) to every first grader in Vigo and Clay Schools," Fears said. "This year we are going to be adding Sullivan Schools as well, so we are in need of approximately 2,000 stuffed animals."
Fears said the United Way will collect the stuffed animals through the end of April and then give them out to the students the first week of May.
"The students then read to their reading buddy; it's their own personal stuffed animal," Fears said. "Then they are able to take the reading buddy home at the end of the school year ... with the hope that they will be able to continue to read to their reading buddy throughout the summer months.
"That was a program we just started last year. We did Vigo and Clay schools, and we had a tremendous response ... from students, teachers and parents."
Fears said anyone with new or gently used stuffed animals can donate them by dropping them in donation barrels located at the Clay County YMCA and The Brazil Times, or by contacting the United Way to come pick them up.
Fears then talked about the popular program called Real Men Read, which started two years ago.
"Real Men Read is where we have a man or men going into kindergarten classrooms," Fears said. "They go in once a month for five months, and they read a book to the class.
"They go into the same class, with the same teacher, and they read a (different) book each time they go. So, they are reading five books, but then the kids get a copy of the book that's being read, so the kids end up getting five different books in the program."
He said the kids thoroughly enjoy the guest readers, and in some cases the books they receive might be the only ones they own.
Fears explained the basis of the program is to give kids a male role model in the classrooms and learning experience.
According to Fears, anyone interested in getting involved in Real Men Read or with the United Way in other capacities can get information by calling 812-249-2759, or by visiting www.uwwv.org.