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Department of Pediatrics literacy program celebrates 20 years with goal of collecting 20,000 children’s books

It’s difficult to mask the clinical nature of exam rooms, even in the cheeriest of pediatrician’s offices. But a doctor’s simple gesture of handing out a storybook at every visit can make a big difference in keeping a child comfortable while providing a window into that child’s development.

During the last two decades, Reach Out and Read of Northwest Ohio — a grant-funded program of The University of Toledo Department of Pediatrics — has provided more than 258,000 books to children across the region from birth to age 5.

Dr. DeAnna McGarity, first-year resident in UT Pediatrics, left, Dr. Rami Abdel Aziz, first-year resident in UT Pediatrics, and Lori LeGendre, Reach Out and Read program director, looked at some of the books collected during the drive. Books and donations will be accepted through Thursday, Nov. 15.

In honor of the initiative’s 20th anniversary, the group is in the midst of a book drive with a goal of collecting 20,000 children’s books.

“We rely on grants and donations for our entire program budget. One of our main expenses is buying books,” Lori LeGendre, program director, said. “Reach Out and Read is an important program and having community support ensures we can continue providing books that help make the experience of a doctor’s visit more child friendly, while at the same time educating parents on the importance of literacy and helping medical providers monitor development.”

Reach Out and Read is an evidence-based medical model using literacy guidance as a stepping-stone to school readiness and to enhance parent-child relationships. It also serves as a literacy program, modeling the importance of reading to parents, and as a tool for pediatricians.

“Reach Out and Read is a great way for us to gauge a child’s development,” said Dr. Valarie Stricklen, a pediatrician with The University of Toledo Medical Center’s Rocket Pediatrics. “Can they point, can they name colors, can they turn pages, can they sound out words? There are many developmental milestones that we can glean from just handing them the book.”

Currently, the program is at 25 sites across the region, including the Rocket Pediatrics locations in Waterville and at the Ruppert Health Center on UT’s Health Science Campus.

Reach Out and Read of Northwest Ohio serves about 14,000 children, handing out about 28,000 books a year. In some cases, the books families receive through Reach Out and Read are the only books in the home, LeGendre said.

Nationally, more than 32,000 doctors and nurses across all 50 states participate in the program, reaching 4.7 million children annually.

“Books are more than just reading the story and looking at the pictures. Reading is the cornerstone for language development,” Stricklen said. “That is why we give the books at 6 months of age before they can even talk. It teaches them the rhythm of language and speech patterns. It’s also a great way to start a bedtime routine and a way for the parent and child to connect and make reading a routine that can be fun and exciting.”

Monetary donations to the Reach Out and Read of Northwest Ohio book drive can be made by visiting Books by the Bushel. The program also is accepting donations of new and gently used books. The book drive runs through Thursday, Nov. 15.

For more information, contact LeGendre at 419.291.0038 or lori.legendre@utoledo.edu.