Reading is essential for a child’s development. Yet so many kids lack the resources to develop this skill, falling behind their wealthier peers. Meet the people behind two organizations working hard to bring books to kids.
Reach Out and Read
While working at Boston City Hospital in 1989, Robert Needlman, M.D., realized he and his fellow pediatricians were failing to diagnose an epidemic: illiteracy. And while reading skills and pediatrics may not seem like an obvious combination, Needlman saw it differently. “We have the chance to support a child’s holistic growth—mentally and physically—which includes reading,” says Needlman. This belief led him to cofound Reach Out and Read, a nonprofit designed to help pediatricians break down literacy barriers for their littlest patients.
Reach Out and Read’s program starts at a baby’s 6-month checkup and extends until the child is 5 years old. At each appointment, doctors write a prescription for reading—literally with their prescription pads!—pick out an age-appropriate book, and talk to parents about reading aloud with their child.
One of the families the group has helped is Julie’s: She’s a mother of three and a victim of domestic violence, and has been forced to move to numerous shelters in order to keep her kids, and herself, safe. Every time they move, her children, ages 2, 3, and 5, have been able to bring only one toy—and they always choose their Reach Out and Read books. “I’m so happy because I know my children are already making good choices,” says Julie. “Despite my troubles, I feel like I am doing something right because of Reach Out and Read.”
To date, Reach Out and Read has over 4,600 sites throughout the U.S. and Puerto Rico. Learn how you can support the organization at reachoutandread.org.
Early in her career as a corporate lawyer in Washington, D.C., Kyle Zimmer started tutoring children at an inner-city soup kitchen. When she discovered the lack of books at the facility, she asked the kids what books they read at home. The answer stunned her: None, because they didn’t have any. “I couldn’t imagine growing up without books, without bedtime stories,” said Zimmer. So in 1992, Zimmer and two fellow lawyers traded in their legal pads and six-figure salaries to start First Book, a nonprofit that provides high-quality books to educators in low-income areas to help them better teach students.
Zimmer soon found out that while First Book’s misson of providing books to needy communities may sound simple, the execution, on the other hand, is anything but easy. “There were times when we hit rough patches financially,” says Zimmer. “But the thought of children going without books is unacceptable, so we always kept pushing forward.” Through hard work, resolve, and occasionally just plain begging corporations for donations, First Book managed to give away 12,000 books to three inner-city Washington, D.C., communities within its first year. And in the 19 years since? They’ve donated 80 million books, reaching kids in preschools, afterschool programs, and shelters across the U.S. and Canada. To see how your family can help, go to firstbook.org.