By Christopher Smith
She’s reluctant to give her name because she’s here illegally, but Maria says Whitfield County “is home.”
Not necessarily to her, she said, but to her 6-year-old daughter Emma and 8-year-old son David.
“They are intelligent,” she said of her kids. “They read a lot. I can’t read well. They have a future.”
The family, along with hundreds of other locals, came to the Mack Gaston Community Center in Dalton Thursday to the second annual Celebration of Literacy, part of the Readers to Leaders program.
The year-old effort offers reading programs inside local schools, churches, doctors’ offices, the Dalton-Whitfield County Library and the community center, among other places, to make sure local children are getting exposed to words on a daily basis.
Local educators have long said learning to read offers more than just the ability to read, is the key to all other topics of study, and ultimately is the key to an educated and capable workforce.
Maria said reading isn’t just the key to education, but the key to a good life.
“If they can read, they can learn,” she said of her kids. “If they can learn they will have a better life than I did. That’s what I want for them.”
Emma said she was just “happy to see the Cat in the Hat.”
So was 7-year-old Isabella Fraijo, who took photos with a volunteer dressed like the character created by Dr. Seuss.
“That’s so cool,” Isabella said of seeing the character outside of a book. “That’s one of my favorite books! I love him.”
Pam Partain, Readers to Leaders chair, said getting children like Isabella interested in reading is the point and well worth the $1.5 million city and county officials used to start the program.
“Events like (the literacy celebration) demonstrate how committed this community is to education,” she said, “education by way of literacy for our youngest, smallest learners. What we found out last year is that people want books and stories to take home. We had more than 2,000 people visit last year. It was a pleasant surprise.”
And it shows the hunger that local children have to learn, Partain added.
Kathryn Sellers, one of many people who volunteered to read to children during the celebration, said she’s seen the same thing.
“I saw how effective and successful this was last year,” she said. “It’s very unique. It brings all kinds of kids here and shows them the importance of reading. I think it’s important for all children to read well. That’s the proof of their success in life.”
Louis Boone of Rocky Face said he never read well. Enough to get by, he said, but he’s a “working-class man” without a college education. That’s OK for him, but not for his two elementary-aged daughters Katy and Grace, he said.
“I want them to go on and leave this county and do great things,” he said. “I push them. I’ve had a good life, but I want them to be whatever they want to be.”
Katy. 8, wants to be a doctor, while her sister Grace, 6, said she wants to teach.
Both said taking home books Thursday was “awesome.”
“I know it’s important,” Katy said. “My dad tells me it’s very good to read. So I’m going to always read.”