June 19, 2013

Leaders look to feed reader program

Rachel Brown

— Doctors have long prescribed remedies like medicine and bed rest, but a group of pediatricians in Dalton are affiliated with a new program that involves periodically prescribing books for their young patients.

The program, Reach Out & Read, is part of a community-wide focus on literacy that involves several organizations, educational institutions and government entities.

Dalton-Whitfield County Library board member Elizabeth Chadwick said Reach Out & Read, or ROAR, is a national program in which medical providers give out books at well child visits from birth to 5 years old. With the books, doctors or nurse practitioners at White’s Pediatrics who have been trained in the program will also provide counseling, emphasizing the importance of reading to or with young children to help their minds develop.

Rock Bridge Community Church is helping sponsor the program, and organizers are looking for more groups or individuals to help with remaining needs. The annual cost is about $8,000 with most of the money going toward books and a little more than $1,000 for administration, Chadwick said. The program will serve an estimated 6,600 children. Organizers are holding a meeting on Thursday at 10 a.m. at the Mack Gaston Community Center in Dalton to provide more information on ROAR. The session is geared toward churches and other faith-based organizations, but anyone is welcome. Other sessions are planned for later in the year.

Nurse Erin Hundley said the medical providers at White’s Pediatrics have already completed their online training and are ready to get started. If a patient goes to White’s from birth until age 5, that person will get about seven books. Each one will be age appropriate and can be in Spanish or English depending on the child’s needs. Some of the books will be in both Spanish and English.

Hundley said they also plan to make their well child lobby more “literacy rich” by providing books there and having people periodically come read aloud to the children while they are waiting.

“I think it will help promote literacy to the kids that otherwise couldn’t be exposed to it,” Hundley said. “We have a lot of parents who don’t know how to read. Hopefully (if the adults can’t read), they will see it as exposing their child to reading at such an early age that they will get help. There are actually programs at the library that we can refer the parents to (for additional help).”

Tom Gerborg, one of the pastors at Rock Bridge, said the church became involved after lead pastor Matt Evans talked with Mayor David Pennington about how literacy is such an issue in the community.

“With some of the socioeconomic challenges in our city and county, some of the folks might not be able to afford a book or might not see the value of reading to their kids, which is totally understandable if no one ever taught them that,” he said.

Gerborg said the church plans to contribute to other community literacy initiatives as they arise.

For more information about Readers to Leaders, visit www.facebook.com/R2LDaltonWhitfield. To read more about ROAR, visit reachoutandread.org.