Chester Inc. steps up to support United Way of Porter County’s Reading Buddies program during COVID-19

Chester Inc. steps up to support United Way of Porter County’s Reading Buddies program during COVID-19

United Way of Porter County’s Reading Buddies program is a simple, but beloved program that provides students across Northwest Indiana with a stuffed animal companion that serves as a motivational tool for developing reading and speech skills.

Keeping the program running depends on the support of community members and local sponsors, especially during the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic. One group of supporters is the team at Chester Inc., who are next door neighbors to United Way of Porter County and stepped up to make sure Region students would still receive Reading Buddies this school year.

“They are awesome neighbors to us, and regularly come to our aid when we need assistance,” said Kasandra Tenbarge, Director of Development for United Way of Porter County. “Due to COVID-19, our office was unexpectedly shut down during our Reading Buddies collection drive. Chester, Inc. stepped up to be our collection site. We couldn’t have pulled off this year’s program logistics without them.”

Rich Shields, Director of Marketing & Business Development at Chester Inc., noted that their efforts this year were just as much about helping the local kids as they were supporting their longtime neighbor.

“This year especially has been so difficult,” he said. “It’s hard enough to get kids motivated about different aspects of learning. These Reading Buddies are so monumental in motivating our students and building confidence in their reading. It really helps their self-esteem and their public speaking to have that special someone to read to and talk with on a consistent level, in some cases.”

Kim Olesker, President and CEO of United Way of Porter County, was not surprised when Chester Inc., jumped at the chance to help.

“Chester, Inc., is a Cornerstone United Way Partner Organization. They have been a partner for over 25 years,” she said. “We could not do what we do without them and the many other organizations that have stepped up to put the community first.”

The 2020 numbers are still being counted, but in 2019 alone, Chester Inc.’s overall support for United Way of Porter County was more than $20,000. So far this year, 2,341 reading buddies have been delivered to 28 schools around the Region with potential for more as the school year goes on.

“Chester Inc. always puts the community first and finds ways to give back,” Shields said. “It beckons back to the days of Orville Redenbacher and Charlie Bowman. Philanthropy and supporting organizations such as the United Way has always been important to us.”

To learn more about Chester Inc., visit For more information about United Way of Porter County and their Reading Buddies program, visit