Reach Out and Read: Program to encourage reading among Bulloch’s youngest residents

A program designed to help encourage reading in young children — and encourage parents to take their children to pediatric well visits — is coming to Boro.

Reach Out and Read Georgia, affiliated with Reach Out and Read National, currently has 170 locations in 72 Georgia counties, with a new location opening in Bulloch County after the first year of the year. Statesboro Pediatrics and Family Health Care partners with ROAR to bring books to children from infants through age 5.

There are currently two existing locations nearby: Savannah Pediatrics and Pediatric Associates of Savannah.

The program trains doctors and their staff to create an environment where children have the opportunity to choose a book to take home during their well visit. The doctor, in turn, can use the interaction of parents and child with books to assess the child’s developmental level and also to help the parents.

ROAR began at Boston Medical Center in 1989, and the first Georgia program began 25 years ago at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta in Hughes Spalding. About 10 years ago, the United Way of Greater Atlanta partnered with the Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation to fund the opening of the Georgia branch office, and 10 years ago Amy Erickson was hired as general manager. Since then, the program has grown exponentially.

Last year, ROAR helped facilitate 352,433 screenings for children under the age of 5 and 187,373 books were distributed. This means that there is a 53% book distribution rate. Erickson says they aim to increase that percentage to 100%.

Since 2000, 3,143,991 wells have been visited and 2,468,521 books distributed across the state of Georgia. The two Pooler locations have sold 46,126 books to date.

“There is strong demand for the program and books are recurring editions that support our growth, and continuing to expand to train more pediatricians is an ongoing challenge,” she said. “We aspire to become a budget item to help us achieve these goals, and for long-term sustainability, we believe this is an investment that our government officials must stand behind.”

Erickson is a former Bulloch County resident and says she recognizes the need for a program like this in the area.

“It may have been known that third grade readings were very low, that there was a great need in Bulloch County,” she said of her desire to bring ROAR to the Boro. She added that she wants all kids in Bulloch County to read at grade level through third grade. “I am pleased that we have made a little progress on this path.”

ROAR has partnered locally with Books A Million in Statesboro. Local residents can buy children’s books in the shop, which are collected there and made available to the participating medical practices. Donations currently made would be taken to the two pooler locations; After the first year, donations went to Statesboro Pediatrics and Family Health Care on Brampton Avenue.

Erickson says the program is having an impact across the country and across the state of Georgia. There are 25 studies, she said, that show children who have benefited from the ROAR program enter kindergarten with a developmental advantage of up to six months.

ROAR Georgia is currently working to raise funds to purchase 352,433 books for the program to mark its 25th anniversary. Erickson says donations on Giving Tuesday/Georgia Gives Day, November 28, would be greatly appreciated.

“My dream is that in Georgia every kid in the state who goes to their pediatrician’s office will be cared for by a pediatrician who is trained in the Reach Out and Read program,” she said.

If you would like to get involved, you can donate online and learn more about the program at reachoutandread.org/Georgia. You can also follow them on Facebook: @reachoutandreadgeorgia.

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