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Matthew can’t read yet, but he already has a great book collection

The Oudenk family receives over 30 new books

Matthew Oudenk was recognized as the recipient of the 100,00the book through the Muscogee County chapter of the Ferst Foundation for Childhood Literacy. The local chapter was founded in 2012 by Warren Steele and to date has served over 5,000 local
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Matthew Oudenk was recognized as the recipient of the 100,00the book through the Muscogee County chapter of the Ferst Foundation for Childhood Literacy. The local chapter was founded in 2012 by Warren Steele and to date has served over 5,000 local

Even though he’s only 18 months old, Matthew Oudenk already has a book collection that rivals that of children twice his age.

Matthew was recognized on Saturday at the Columbus Public Library as the recipient of the 100,000th book from the Muscogee County chapter of the Ferst Foundation for Childhood Literacy. He received more than 30 new books.

The local chapter was founded in 2012 by Warren Steele and has since served more than 5,000 children.

“I used to go into the elementary schools and read with kids and mentor them,” Steele said. “What I saw was that those kids were already so far behind in third grade and definitely by fifth grade, I realized what I think was a need to get to them sooner.”

Parents with a child up to 5 years old can register in the program and receive a new book every month. Currently, the local chapter serves more than 2,500 children and Warren hopes that number continues to grow in the coming years.

Ann McDuffie, a retired educator from St. Luke School, is a member of the community action team and helps coordinate parent engagement.

“First thing I say is start reading to (children) before they even come out of the womb so they hear your voice,” she said. “I read to my granddaughter when she was a week old and parents who do that are introducing vocabulary, turning the pages, illustrations, inflections of voice, and a love of reading and how much fun it is. Read, read and read some more, you can’t read enough.”

Vancie Oudenk, Matthew’s mom, said she often stayed up late as a kid with a flashlight under her covers reading a book. She hopes to instill that same love of reading in her children, saying it’s like a “mini-movie” that gets the imagination going. Her favorite books to read to her kids include “Goodnight, Moon” and “Hungry, Hungry Caterpillar.”

Aside from the fun aspect of reading, Steele sees it as a way of teaching children before they even hit kindergarten.

“Ninety percent of the brain is formed by age 5 and children that don’t have some early literacy skills before they start kindergarten are less likely to be on grade level and are more likely to drop out of school in future years and end up in the criminal justice system,” Steele said.

Steele says low-income children often only know one or two letters. That’s why putting books in the hands of children during their youngest years is crucial for Steele.

“When I see a child get a book, in my mind it’s here’s a child that’s going to understand words, that is going to start knowing what words mean and will be better prepared to learn once they start school,” he said.

Aysia Quarterman, 7, is already excited about reading many books. Her mother, Holly, said Asyia received a certificate in kindergarten for reading the most books.

“(Reading) helps you learn better and read better. Reading is fun and it’s not bad, it’s good,” Asyia said.

If you wish to become a donor or sign your children up for the program, visit www.muscogeecountyferstfoundation.org or visit their Facebook page, Muscogee County Ferst Foundation for Childhood Literacy.

Lauren Gorla: 706-571-8647, @gorla94

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