Pediatrician book program to receive federal funding

$2 million designated for Reach Out and Read, helping preschoolers

January 09, 2000|By Jamie Stiehm | Jamie Stiehm,SUN STAFF

Reach Out and Read -- a program that puts books in the hands of needy preschoolers through pediatricians' offices in Baltimore and across the nation -- is due for a $2 million infusion under a federal appropriation recently signed into law.

Program officials say the funding, approved with bipartisan support in the U.S. Senate, will support books and the expansion of Reach Out and Read, which has 600 sites, including 10 in Baltimore, in 48 states.

"We give out 1,000 books in West Baltimore a month," said Dr. Virginia Keane, director of the Pediatric Ambulatory Center of the University of Maryland Hospital for Children on Lombard Street, one of the sites. "It's much better than a sticker or a lollipop."

Reach Out and Read was started by a doctor in Boston.

The program, begun in 1989, grew in large part through funding from the Baltimore-based Annie E. Casey Foundation and is aimed at providing books for children of low-income households.

Pediatricians send books home at regular doctor's checkups from age 6 months through age 5. During a series of "well-child" visits, the doctor has a continuing conversation with the parent about the importance of reading to the child, sometimes writing a reading "prescription" and giving the child a book to take home.

The idea is to make books seem fun and familiar at an early age. "We have an opportunity to intervene with families before it's too late," said Keane.

Often mothers are as eager to get a new book as their children, and the program helps create a positive time together for parent and child.

"It's building social capital," said Dana Kaplin, who coordinates the 10 Baltimore sites, including centers in Baltimore's eastern, western, and northern sections and downtown.

Kaplin said the program is looking for practices, particularly in southern Baltimore that serve a large proportion of low-income patients, to become Reach Out and Read sites.

Said Keane, who works with patients in West Baltimore: "You need a site like this in Cherry Hill."

At Boston Medical Center, where the national Reach Out and Read program is based, plans are being made for the $2 million in federal funding, which was championed by Massachusetts Democratic U.S. Sen. Edward M. Kennedy. The funding will be available in the spring.

Matthew Veno, assistant director at the national center, said the program is expected to expand nationally because of the funding increase.

Local sites, such as those in Baltimore, could receive funding as matching grants for books.

Those interested in volunteering, donating books or learning about establishing a Reach Out and Read Site may call Dana Kaplin at 410-396-7318.

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