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Making literacy a priority for the children in my community

After Turner was born, I made it my mission to ensure that all children in my community had the best of everything. From sponsoring kids at Christmas, to working to start a local Safe Kids Chapter, I have made it my goal to make the world Turner lives in better.

My husband Andrew, of course is annoyed by my constant causes and efforts to take on the world, but I feel obligated. Maybe it is the new mom in me and my idea, however naive it may be, that I can make a difference. I may not change the whole world, but I am certainly going to work really hard to change mine.

My family's Christmas card this year.

My family’s Christmas card this year.

One of those efforts, which I was actually a part of long before Turner, is Read2Me. Read2Me is comprised of a group of volunteers in my community who are working to prove that Reading Matters in Macon County. We work to ensure that all children in our county, regardless of income, have access to books. Early literacy is so crucial to a child’s development and from birth, even before birth, it is so important to read to and with your children. We want to make sure that everyone knows that and have the resources to do it.

Where we live is considerably poor. Most families in our community live below the poverty line and not only is access to resources limited, but the general education and knowledge of the importance of early literacy is something that is often loss. Read2Me wants to change that, and since we started 3 years ago, we have.

When we started, 75 percent of children entering Kindergarten were testing below proficient on the reading readiness test. The test includes things like knowing you read a book left to right, and which way a book should be, upside down or right side up. Seemingly simples things, that were being ignored. With Read2Me working to provide books to all children in the county, and holding parent training sessions on how to raise a reader, those test scores have improved dramatically. If I remember correctly, the last figures we got showed that now only about 35 percent of children were testing below proficient. That number is still way too high, proving that we have a lot of work to do.

One of Read2Me’s main focuses is implementing the Dolly Parton Imagination Library. We have worked with another local literacy group to bring the program to children in Macon County. We fully fund the program, so it is free for all children, regardless of income. Through the Dolly program, all children in Macon County, birth to age 5, receive a book in the mail each month. The book is addressed to them and is age appropriate. The program is magical and so many children love it.

Dolly-Partons-Imagination-Library

In the first full year of the program we served a little more than 1,000 kids, with about 820 actively enrolled. That is incredible. It cost us about $32,000 each year to bring the program to Macon County. What that breaks down to is about $30 per child, per year. A small price to pay to support literacy.

This year, we are a couple of thousand dollars shot tot our $32,000 so we are in a fundraising crunch to ensure that the program can continue through 2015 and beyond. We fundraise all year long. We hold bake sales, car shows, yard sales, talk to local groups, and do just about anything and everything we can think of to get they money raised. It matters to us. It is important to us to make sure that reading is a priority in our community.

We have set up a Go Fund Me account in hopes of raising some additional funding for the program. It may be a stretch, but we are hoping that our mission reaches beyond our community and we can solicit support on a grander scale. If you would like to help, please visit our Go Fund Me page: http://www.gofundme.com/iy31m4. If you can’t make a small donation, please share our story. Please join us in proving that Reading Matters in Macon.

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Writing, writing, and more writing, this time for car seat safety

As if the fact that I am a full-time copywriter, basically a full-time newspaper reporter and then freelance for another newspaper wasn’t enough, my motherly instinct has driven me to organize a child seat safety event. In the last week, I have basically beasted it and gotten all local law enforcement, the local hospital and a ton of local businesses to participate. So that is encouraging. I have a couple of months to put it all together, but have been working non-stop to get it going and build momentum. 

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75% of car seats are installed wrong. That is terrifying. I even had Turner’s seat in wrong until I started researching it! I wanted to fix this and work to educate other parents. So i began working to plan an event on April 5. I am still working on a catchy name other than, Child Seat Safety Event (I welcome suggestions) and a catchy slogan. But I hope it becomes something that is not only helpful, but something that can be repeated often. This is the most recent type of marketing write up I have done for it. Feel free to tell me what you guys think. 

Macon County Sheriff’s Office, Franklin Police Department, and Highlands Police, as well as Angel Medical Center have all signed on to be a part of a countywide Child Seat Safety Event in Macon County scheduled for April 5. 

Currently, the event is being planned to be held at the Fun Factory Parking lot from 11-2. The different departments have individuals who are certified in the installation of car seats. There will be a check point set up for parents to drive through to get their seats checked. 3 out 4 car seats are installed incorrectly. That means 75% of children are riding in cars and are not securely strapped in. We want to change that. 

 The task force working on organizing the event will handle all of the planning. We are looking toward the business community to help us in offering incentives for parents to come to the event. Some parents may have no idea their seats are installed incorrectly. I am that parent, which is why I wanted to organize this event. Because they may think their seats are installed correctly, we want to offer other incentives such as discounts to local businesses to help draw them in. 

A couple ways business and individuals can help:

 The big push we are doing with businesses is for the week following April 5, which would be April 6-12, we are asking that businesses who are interested in participating sign on to offer parents who come to the event a 10% discount. Parents who come will be given a business card that says something to the effect, “I got my seat checked.” The card will feature a list of businesses who agree, so parents will know for that week, they can get discounts at those locations. Not only does this give the parent an incentive, but it also encourages them to shop at local businesses. 

 Other businesses are looking to sponsor promotion materials for the event such as stickers. We want to have stickers made for the children that come. In addition to the stickers, depending on what we get from the community, we may make an entire goody bag for children. 

 I have had individuals and organizations contact me about donating car seats. Car seats cost about $60 each. If law enforcement finds that a child has outgrown a seat, or the seat is expired or on the recall list, by law, they are not allowed to let that parent leave using that car seat. So we will need car seats to offer to replace them. There are state programs that offer seats as well, but those seats are generally limited. Macon Program for Progress plans to but a car seat, the best kind possible, to do a raffle for parents. 

Other organizations or businesses could consider sponsoring hotdogs or waters to offer to parents as an added incentive. The fun factory will be open and are looking to either offer free play time for people that Saturday or a discount to their restaurants as well. 

 We want it to be a community effort. We would like for all volunteers for that day to have shirts so they are easily identified. The shirts will also feature names of all businesses who donated or have agreed to participate. 

We welcome any and all help. So if any of these ideas do not seem to fit what you are looking for, and you have your own idea, I would love to hear it. If you do not think you can offer something and just want to help promote the event with a flyer in your business, we would love that as well.  

I would be more than happy to answer any questions that you may have and set up a time to meet to discuss this further if you would like. Thank you so much for your interest.

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Raising a reader

In the community I live in I am on a committee called Read2Me. Since we first started, we have been working to inform parents the importance of early literacy in children. When I joined the group, I was just passionate about reading and ensuring that all children have access to reading materials from an early age. After I learned that I would be having Turner, I was even more excited because now I would be able to practice what I preach.

Read2Me’s main objectives are to teach parents the importance of early literacy through free parent training events, to inform the community of how crucial it is for children to have the opportunity to read wherever they go, and to provide free books to all children. With a focus on early literacy, Read2Me has targeted the age group of birth to 5 years old, to ensure that before children become school age, they are exposed and have access to things needed to raise a reader.

We teamed up with the Dolly Parton Imagination Library to join their program which provides a FREE book each month to every child from birth to age five. Read2Me worked to raise the funds to keep this program free to all children in the age demographic. Ideally it costs $30 per child per month, but because of what Read2Me, a group of about eight volunteers and a local literacy council in our community has done, the estimated 1,800 children eligible for the program can all sign up for free.

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I of course signed Turner up and he will be getting his first book later this month. We are so excited. To live in a community that provides this type of opportunity to children is amazing.

A study of 3- to 5-year-olds who had been read to at least three times per week found the children:

Two times more likely to recognize all letters.

Two times more likely to have word-sight recognition.

Two times more likely to understand words in context.

 That development alone is worth the effort to read to your child everyday. I grew up loving to read. My best friend Shannon and I were complete nerds and our love of reading turned into a love of writing and starting in fourth grade, we began writing books. We had an entire series. I doubt they could have made the best sellers list, but it was through reading that we were able to use our imagination and expand our creativity and develop into who we are today. I write for a living, and if it was not for me growing up a reader, I doubt that would be possible.

In addition to the educational value of early literacy, raising a reader allows children to be exposed to entirely new worlds through books. Its a learning mechanism for all aspects of life. Living in the mountains, the only way I learned about sea animals was through books. That sort of exposure is so important as early as possible for children.

 For my baby showers, instead of cards that were going to be thrown away and forgotten, I asked everyone to get Turner a book, and write your message in the book. By writing a note to Turner, he will have something tangible that I can teach him about. I can explain who the person was and on several occasions the book spoke to the person’s personality. It was a great way to start his little library that I know will only continue to grow as he gets older. For the rest of his life, through birthdays and such, I plan to encourage family and friends to stick with that tradition and to forego cards and instead get him a book. These days, a book cost less, yet the value is far greater.

The first book I read to Turner was a children’s bible. I started reading it to him the day he came home from the hospital. I should read to him more often than I do. Even if its not books, read everything to your child. When you are sitting at the dinner table, read the cereal box label. Their brains are developing at such rapid rates that reading anything and everything will have a lasting impact on your child.   

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Turner is an excellent conversationalist

I talk to Turner as if he is a grown up. I have no problem admitting that my best friend is just over three-months-old. He is a brilliant listener and although there is a small language barrier right now, he is a a phenomenal conversationalist.

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Where the problem lies is that I don’t just talk to Turner when we are at home, or when we are riding in the car, I will carry out full conversations with Turner everywhere. When we are at the grocery store, and it is just me and my little prince, I don’t care. We can talk about the weather, I ask him his opinion on which brand of baby food he wants, even ask him to help me pick out his clothes.

 I am not entirely insane. I can admit that he has absolutely no idea what I am saying at this point in his life. While his head may be a little larger than most, his little brain is working just as hard as it can to figure things out. I talk to him because it builds comprehension. It increases his vocabulary.

 Just this year, the New York Times published an article about the impact talking to your child can have on their development (http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/04/10/the-power-of-talking-to-your-baby/?_r=0).

 If you don’t want to read the entire article, one crucial component of the article states: “Another idea, however, is creeping into the policy debate: that the key to early learning is talking — specifically, a child’s exposure to language spoken by parents and caretakers from birth to age 3, the more the better. It turns out, evidence is showing, that the much-ridiculed stream of parent-to-child baby talk — Feel Teddy’s nose! It’s so soft! Cars make noise — look, there’s a yellow one! Baby feels hungry? Now Mommy is opening the refrigerator! — is very, very important.”

I don’t always talk to Turner in a high pitched voice or what people refer to as “baby talk” a lot of times I talk to him like he is an adult. I really do not see the harm in it, especially, when studies show it boost creativity and development. But when I am in public, and forget that there are people outside for the me and Turner bubble that I tend to typically live in, I get some serious stares. Generally from people who either do not have kids, have forgotten what it is like to have kids, or are just mean people.

I really don’t think having a conversation with my son warrants empty and confused stares by on-lookers, but nonetheless, it does. At times, I want to look at them and be like, “can I help you?” But then I remember that I am an adult, that I was raised better than that, and that all I can do is say bless your heart.

I didn’t read to Turner when he was in the womb as much as I should have, but I blame that on the fact that I work for a newspaper so I read and write for a living, so it is a little exhausting. I also probably don’t read to him now as much as most advanced baby scientists would say I should, but I think I do a pretty fair job of bridging that gap through constant dialogue.

He may not be able to understand it now, but I am confident that each word and each sound gets a little wheel going in his head and is working for the better. I just hope that is actually learns to talk a lot sooner than I did.

I was a solid five-years-old and the only person who could understand me was my momma. My aunts and other family members would often just have to send me to my mom to translate whatever I wanted. Thankfully, my awesome sister Ruby, you know, the one that does an awesome job of scanning my blog just for her name, posted a video of me when I was a kid so you can see first hand how challenged I was at the art of speaking (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UzwwtuoQhWE).

I don’t know why I was such a late developer when it came to talking, and even since, I have a horrendous speech impediment. I cannot say my “R” words to save my life and have basically eradicated any “R” words from my daily verbal vocabulary to avoid the embarrassment of tripping up and sounding silly. When I was a kid my speech therapist, which I had to see from Kindergarten until 8th grades ( they didn’t offer it in high school or else I am sure I would have been there) would make me say “The Red Rooster Ran down the Road.” Which for me came out more like, “The Wed Wooster Wan down the Woad.” I would also have to say, “Ruby, can I borrow the computer.” Which sounded like, “Wuby, can I bowwow the computew.” Hopefully, I won’t pass that on… I really really hope.

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