Since its inception, the New Mother’s Book Giveaway program has presented 1,378 new books to Advocates for Children’s First Steps offering. The outreach’s latest donation of 200 literary works, which were purchased at discounted prices from a literacy nonprofit named First Book, was furnished in the first week of March.
“The Bartow Literacy Council began the New Mother’s Book Giveaway program in January 2018 with grant funding from the Governor’s Office of Student Achievement (GOSA),” said Valerie Gilreath, chairperson for the Bartow Literacy Council. “An average of 700 children are born each year at Cartersville Medical Center. Each of these mothers/babies receive a visit from First Steps staff — a state program implemented locally by Advocates for Children — prior to leaving the hospital.
“First Steps provides support, parenting information and referrals to new mothers. Before the Book Giveaway program started, First Step staff would provide information about the importance of early language development and an opportunity to enroll in Dolly Parton's Imagination Library program. Some mothers would enroll their infant immediately, but many others were hesitant and wanted to wait and think about it,” she said, noting First Steps staff relayed “adding a book to that initial visit would be a useful engagement tool and more tangible than ‘information’ as well as help establish “the habit of reading to the child every day.”
After providing two years of funding, the program’s GOSA grant ended Dec. 31.
“For 2020,” Gilreath said, “we are in discussions with the Bartow County School System to support this program as part of their L4GA funds earmarked for children ages 0 to 5.
“We need support from the community to ensure that this program continues beyond this year,” she said, encouraging people to visit the Bartow Literacy Council’s website to donate. “The goals of the program are No. 1, to increase the number of children under the age of 1 enrolled in Imagination Library and No. 2, establish a habit of reading aloud to the child from birth.”
Echoing Gilreath’s comments, Kim Dennis — member at large for the Bartow Literacy Council — underscored the importance of childhood literacy and the New Mother’s Book Giveaway program.
“Reading aloud to children is one of the best ways to encourage language and literacy skill development in babies and young children,” Dennis said. “Ninety percent of brain development takes place in the first three years of life. Receiving a book at the hospital reinforces the importance of developing the daily habit of shared reading and gives a mother the tools needed to get started right away.
“Children whose parents read to them at home arrive at kindergarten school-ready and are significantly more likely to succeed in school and achieve reading proficiency by the all-important end of third grade milestone. Children who fail to achieve this milestone at the end of third grade are four times more likely to drop out of school.”
Established in December 2016, the Bartow Literacy Council was formed after concerns were raised about the reading proficiency of local third-graders.
“At that time only 33.5% of Bartow County children scored ‘proficient’ on this critical third-grade reading benchmark,” Gilreath said, referring to when the organization started. “The Literacy Council brought together numerous community agencies that shared the common goal of increasing literacy and academic success for Bartow County children.
“Our initial focus was to expand Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library in Bartow County. Imagination Library direct-mails one age-appropriate book to a registered child’s home each month until they turn 5 years old. This program is free to families, but it is not free. Most people don’t realize that the Bartow Literacy Council pays for every child enrolled in Bartow County at a cost of over $80,000 each year. Since March of 2017, 4,692 children in Bartow County have been enrolled. In 2019 alone, this resulted in 38,155 books mailed directly to the homes of Bartow County families.”
For more information about the Bartow Literary Council and to donate to its New Mother’s Book Giveaway program, visit www.bartowliteracycouncil.org.
“If the public wants to support this program, we prefer that they donate money, not books,” Dennis said about the New Mother’s Book Giveaway effort. “… As a nonprofit, we can purchase books for a 50% or greater discount over retail.
“Dollars donated to us will result in more books than books purchased by the individual and then donated to us. If someone insists on donating books, however, we need new board books suitable for infants.”