Jenny Badcock: Let reading change their stories

February 20, 2014 

As the Muscogee County Chapter of Ferst Foundation for Childhood Literacy begins its 3rd year of operations, we ask you: how has reading changed your story? Many of us have wonderful memories of someone reading us a favorite book or bedtime story when we were a child. And, I am sure, for most of us, having had this early exposure to the joy of reading has made a positive impact on the direction of the story of our lives.

"Dezaray is 3 years old and LOVES to get Ferst books in the mail. Her mom says that every time she gets a new book, she reads it to her baby brothers." (Muscogee County Parent Newsletter Reader of the Month, Feb. 2014.)

A December 2005 study reported that the number of books in a home has a bigger impact on the number of years a child remains in school than race, socioeconomic background, parents' education level, or the quality of their school system.

Unfortunately, many children in our community do not have access to books in their homes. These children's stories most likely will not have a happy ending. Children who are poor readers are more likely to drop out of high school, be dependent on public assistance, and/or be incarcerated. Some states use poor literacy rates in the 3rd grade to determine the number of jail cells they will need in the future.

The greatest amount of brain growth occurs between birth and age five. In fact, by age 3, roughly 85 percent of the brain's core structure is formed. By the age of 4, children from high-income families hear a total of 32 million more words spoken in their homes than children from low-income families. This is partly because 61 percent of low-income families do not have a single book suitable for a child in their homes.

By providing appropriate reading materials in their homes from birth, we can change their stories. Ferst Foundation mails books into children's homes on a monthly basis from birth until they turn 5 years old. We are working to improve the chances for success for all children in our community, with the support of our sponsors. The books are free for the families, and the cost to our sponsors to support a year's worth of books for one child is $36. A parent newsletter accompanies the books, which gives the parent tips on how to nurture their child's love of reading, and encourage reading the book with their child as a fun activity.

We'd like to thank our sponsors from 2013. Over one hundred individuals in our city contributed, too numerous to mention by name. Our corporate sponsors: Aflac, Synovus, Georgia Power, St. Luke School, and Childcare Network, and our family foundations: John P. and Dorothy S. Illges Family Foundation, Daniel P. Amos Family Foundation, and The Jordan Family Foundation, have allowed us to mail more than 35,000 books to children in Columbus since our start in March of 2012.

We currently have 2,300 kids receiving books on a monthly basis. We'd like to grow that number to support more of the 14,000 children in Columbus under 5 years old. We thank our Birth Certificate Registrars at Midtown Medical Center for their work to provide the majority of our registrations.

Young children who are read to regularly by their parents develop better literacy skills, are better readers when they reach elementary school, and are more likely to succeed academically. We have had 455 Ferst Readers in Columbus "graduate" from our program and start kindergarten. As we grow our "graduates," I am convinced that we will begin to see students entering our school system prepared to learn, which will result in better test scores and eventually a stronger workforce in Columbus.

"Heavenleigh Love, 5 months old, loves for her mother, Ashley, to read the book "Read to Me". When Ashley reads this book, Heavenleigh just smiles and looks right in her mother's eyes." (Muscogee County Parent Newsletter Reader of the Month, Nov. 2013.)

Think about how reading has changed your story, and consider what you can do to help change the stories for some of these 14,000 children in Columbus under 5 years old, before the opportunity to make a difference is lost. To work with Ferst, to learn more about Ferst, or donate online, go to www.ferstfoundation.org To donate by mail, our local PO Box is PO Box 4605, Columbus, GA 31914.

Jenny Badcock, Muscogee County Community Action Team member, is editor of the Parent Newsletter for the Ferst Foundation's Muscogee County chapter.

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