February 11, 2013

Readers to Leaders gets fresh funding

Submitted by the Community Foundation of Northwest Georgia

— During its fall grant cycle, the Dalton-Whitfield Community Foundation awarded $6,000 to the University of Georgia Archway Partnership to help fund the Readers to Leaders (R2L) initiative in Dalton and Whitfield County. The foundation’s grant award will purchase supplies and materials for the initiative and provide part of the compensation funds for a United Way AmeriCorps VISTA worker who is assigned to help with R2L.

“Readers to Leaders is a coordinated community effort to strengthen education and workforce development efforts both inside and outside the classroom,” said Archway Professional Melissa Lu. “It developed after community leadership decided to implement the Literacy Collaborative in both Dalton Public Schools and Whitfield County Schools. Our initial focus is on the early end of the learning cycle — ensuring that students are ready to learn when they enter primary school, and that all students are reading at grade level by the end of the third grade. However, we hope to expand our efforts over time to bolster learning and workforce development along the birth to work continuum.”

Launched in 2012, R2L promotes literacy through a number of efforts. Last summer, R2L sponsored a literacy celebration at the Mack Gaston Community Center boasting more than 2,000 participants. In April, R2L will offer several activities during pre-k registration that will promote reading. And during the summer break, R2L hopes to expand the “Big Red Reads” program — a free mobile library created by Dalton Public Schools — to more children participating in the summer feeding program.

“We are also considering initiating a ‘Reach Out and Read’ program as part of our literacy efforts,” said Dalton State College’s Pam Partain. “Through that program, health practitioners distribute books at well-child visits and explain to parents the developmental milestones they should be looking for when they read the books to their child. The health practitioner reinforces the value of early literacy and nurturing a love of learning while also educating parents on important developmental issues.”

Partain noted the ripple effect of community literacy is far reaching and touches everyone. Indeed, research studies suggest that a more educated, better-prepared workforce will produce more tax-paying citizens, lower poverty levels, reduce crime rates, enhance community health and stabilize families.

In November, Marlen Rodriguez joined the R2L team. Rodriguez is a United Way AmeriCorps VISTA (Volunteers in Service to America) volunteer coordinator with a passion for improving her community. Her role is that of community liaison and she will ensure that the R2L initiative is effective and continues to move forward.

“I’ve discovered that so many people, schools, organizations and companies are interested and invested in improving literacy throughout our community,” Rodriguez said. “I feel that the Readers to Leaders initiative is a perfect fit for this point in time — we need to act now, especially because people are ready and willing to get behind the issue.”

Rodriguez, who grew up in Dalton and Chatsworth and graduated from Dalton State College with a bachelor’s degree in social work, credits her love of reading and an interest in books to her success and love of learning.

“As a young reader, I loved ‘The Rainbow Fish’ and ‘The Very Hungry Caterpillar,’” she says. “I think back to when I was younger and I remember listening to my teachers read those books out loud. I was so interested. And now when I watch young children read books or listen to an adult read a book to them, I see that same interest and hunger that I had when I was their age.”

Rodriguez, Lu and Partain emphasize that reading is a first step to success — that good reading skills lead to learning, and learning increases the probability of children excelling in school and graduating, and completing high school leads to more opportunities and success later in life.

R2L is a collaboration supported by Dalton Public Schools, Whitfield County Schools, Shaw Industries, Mohawk Industries, the Northwest Georgia Regional Library, the Family Connection Collaborative, United Way of Northwest Georgia, the Mack Gaston Community Center, the Dalton-Whitfield Archway Partnership, the city of Dalton, Whitfield County, the Young Professionals of Northwest Georgia, Dalton State College, Dalton Utilities, The Daily Citizen, Books-A-Million, Georgia Northwestern Technical College, the Greater Dalton Chamber of Commerce, the Dalton-Whitfield Joint Development Authority, Leadership Dalton-Whitfield, Rock Bridge Community Church, the Community Foundation of Northwest Georgia and many private citizens and organizations.

The Dalton-Whitfield Community Foundation, an affiliate of the Community Foundation of Northwest Georgia, awards grants to local organizations that benefit the community beyond the time of funding. The mission of the foundation is to promote and facilitate charitable giving by individuals and families living in the region, secure discretionary resources to meet the current and future needs of communities of the region, and strengthen communities by fostering collaboration and awarding grants to qualified organizations and programs.

For more information, contact David Aft at (706) 275-9117.