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Reach Out and Read program fosters a love of books for young children

By Susan Shinn Turner
Smart Start Rowan

CLEVELAND — For eight years, Smart Start Rowan has offered Reach Out and Read — a program that distributes books to children via pediatricians during each well child visit starting at 4 to 6 months.

The agency’s staff, along with pediatricians and families, all love the program.

Amy Brown, Smart Start Rowan’s executive director, says the program — fully funded by United Way — has a proposed budget of $32,468 for 2018. In 2016, the program served 6,875 children in Rowan County.

“The support we receive from the Rowan County United Way is critical to the continued success of the Reach Out and Read program,” Brown says. “Smart Start Rowan and the United Way are truly early literacy partners, and this partnership has allowed us the ability to produce wonderful and life-changing outcomes in the lives of our community’s young children.”

Lisa Edwards, early intervention specialist for Smart Start Rowan, coordinates the Reach Out and Read Program.

“Reach Out and Read has opened so many doors for physicians to have conversations with families,” she notes. “It makes child well visits so much easier. The families are not only getting a book, they’re getting a prescription to read.”

Reach Out and Read, a national program, trains all participating providers. The program promotes bonding, early-childhood development, and nurturing. It also creates space for physicians to ask difficult questions about what Edwards terms social determinants — do they have housing? Do they have food? Do they live in a safe environment?

“Those are really hard questions,” Edwards says. “This program builds trust with families quickly and easily. The program helps physicians look at the whole child.”

Six practices across the county participate in Reach Out and Read: Salisbury Pediatrics, Cleveland Pediatrics, Rowan County Health Department, Novant Milestone, Novant Granite Quarry Internal Medicine and Pediatrics, and Novant Salisbury Medicine.

Edwards estimates that through these practices, Reach Out and Read serves more than 80 percent of the children under age 5 in Rowan County.

Families receive a book at each well visit — nearly a dozen altogether— enabling them to build their own home libraries, Edwards says.

Dr. Paula Franklin has seen success with the program among her patients at Cleveland Pediatrics.

“Children who read are more apt to enjoy books,” she says. “They develop a better vocabulary and do better in school. We don’t have a library in Cleveland, so kids and parents really look forward to their well child visits to receive books.”

She continues, “My child comes here, and I wanted her to have Spanish and English books.”

Reach Out and Read provides both English-language and Spanish-language titles.

“The books are very high quality and well written,” Franklin says.

Her daughter, Alana, 4, especially enjoyed the board book “Touch and Tickle,” which she received through Reach Out and Read, Franklin says.

Brianna Setzer and her husband, Stuart, brought their son Winston, 4 months, to the practice for a well-child visit recently. Even at such a young age, Winston loved looking at a colorful board book. His big brother, Lincoln, 2, has also received Reach Out and Reach books, their mom says.

“It’s awesome,” she says. “Lincoln loves books, especially tractor books. We read every night, and Winston is right there when we’ve been reading.”

The Setzers are building a home library for their boys.

“A lot of people gave us books when Lincoln was born,” Stuart Setzer says.

They now have a whole shelf of children’s books, his wife adds.

Franklin supports the program as a physician and a parent.

“Children should be read to, the earlier the better,” she says. “Everyone has been very receptive to Reach Out and Read.”

Franklin advocates reading to children from an early age.

“I think that’s important,” she says, “even before they’re born. When my daughter was a baby, my mother asked, ‘Why in the world are you reading to her?’ I said, ‘She’s hearing the words, and she’s understanding the cadence of the words and sentences.’

“We’ve been very happy with the program, especially since we’re in a rural area.”

“This program could not exist without the United Way,” Edwards says. “They are vital to Reach Out and Read continuing in Rowan County.

Smart Start Rowan is a Rowan County United Way member agency.

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