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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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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.