In rural McIntosh County where resources are stretched thin and poverty is not uncommon, people know they can rely on the McIntosh County Health Department for certain services. Soon, those services will include access to books for children.
The McIntosh County Health Department has received a $4,500 grant from the Communities of Coastal Georgia Foundation to promote literacy by educating parents about the importance of reading to young children and giving books to children to inspire them to take an active interest in reading. The grant funding will be used to create a reading-friendly space which will include a reading rug, children’s chair, and bookcase inside the health department and to provide an age-appropriate book for every child who comes to the health department for services.
“Considering that well over half the young children in McIntosh County come to the health department for services, we thought this would be a great opportunity to get those children excited about reading,” said McIntosh County Health Department Nurse Manager, Paige Lightsey, R.N. “In the long run this project can really make a positive impact on the lives of the children in McIntosh County.”
Another part of the program involves health department staff teaching parents of children ages birth to five years about the impact early literacy can make on a child’s academic future.
“We want to let parents know how important it is that they read to their children,” said Lightsey. “Parents are role models for their children and can light the spark early on for a child’s desire to read and learn.”
The grant will allow the health department to buy close to 1,000 books for distribution. Books will be purchased according to the four reading levels outlined by the Reach Out and Read Program. In addition to books that will be given away, the reading space in the lobby will be stocked with gently used books donated by the community for parents and children to use while they are at the health department for services or during “story time” events led by volunteer readers.
The initiative targets children at a young age in the hopes that getting them interested in reading early will lead to a better future.
“Early childhood literacy provides a crucial foundation for a young person’s future success in education, employment, and life,” said President and CEO of Communities of Coastal Georgia Foundation, Valerie Hepburn. “Research has affirmed powerful results through promotion of reading and literacy skills by trusted health partners. Providing age-appropriate books and prescribing reading to families through WIC and other women’s and children’s public health programs help our communities address educational achievement, which is a key factor influencing health disparities.”
The Communities of Coastal Georgia Foundation has made early childhood literacy one of its top priorities in grant funding and programming through the Baby Steps initiative. The Foundation has partnered with the Glynn and McIntosh County Health Departments to provide grant support to help launch Reach Out and Read programs in those counties. In the near future, the Foundation hopes to provide similar support to Camden County, ensuring that at least three communities in the Coastal Health District have this valuable program in their health departments.
Ultimately, Lightsey and her staff want to do whatever they can to help the children in McIntosh County develop an appreciation for books and reading, she said. This grant will go a long way toward accomplishing that.
“Most children we serve are low income and well below the poverty line,” she said. “Books they receive from us may be the only books they will have in their home.”