Read early. Read often.

In 2016, education stakeholders identified another issue that young children in Oceana County are facing which not only impacts their education preparedness, but also their future educational & career potential. When children enter kindergarten, significant differences in literacy are already evident when comparing data between children of low, middle and upper income parent(s).  On average children from low income families show far less developed skills in key areas necessary for success in kindergarten and beyond.  In Oceana Country 21.5% of children ages 0-17 live in poverty and 74.8% of the student population is eligible for free/reduced price school lunches.

Check out the early literacy dashboard here to see how Oceana County’s youngest learners are doing!

You can help foster a joy of reading right from the start for all Oceana kids by making an online gift here.

You’re never too young to start loving books!

Many children in Oceana County are not able to attend pre-school programs due to our poverty rates, leaving them without the knowledge and readiness to succeed in school.  Even fewer are equipped with emerging literacy skills such as identifying letters, identifying the correct sounds for letters, and recalling story themes.  According to 2019 Kids Count data, 62.9% of third graders in Oceana County were not proficient in English Language Arts, ranking Oceana County 66th out of 83 counties in the Michigan.  Based on a study at the University of Chicago, fewer than 20% of students who were below grade level in the third grade go on to attend post-secondary education compared with nearly 60% who were reading above third-grade level.

The Foundation and community partners initiated Read early. Read often. (RERO) to better prepare our children for success in learning and in life.  The Foundation applied for and became a host site for an AmeriCorps VISTA member with CEDAM (Community Economic Development Association of Michigan) to launch the RERO program, Danielle Siegel. The program goal is to place books into the households of families with young children in Oceana County.   A 2010 study from the University of Nevada found that the number of books in the home has as great an impact on the levels of education attained by children as the education levels of their parents.  The 20-year study found that having as few as twenty books in the home still has a significant impact on propelling a child to a higher level of education, and the more books in a home, the greater the benefit. Researchers also found that children of lesser-educated parents benefit the most from having books in the home. The results of this study indicate that getting books into homes in Oceana County is an inexpensive way we can help our children succeed.

Books are distributed through collaborative efforts of food pantries, day care centers, agencies, medical offices, libraries, events and more sites as identified by program partners. The initiative will also promote workshops throughout the county for parents, grandparents, caregivers and volunteers. These workshops will demonstrate the importance of reading every day to develop nurturing relationships with their children, how to engage the children when reading, and the resulting long-term impact on educational achievement.  Based on U.S. Census data estimates, there were 1,402 children between the ages of 0-5 years living in Oceana County in 2019.  The reading readiness gap must be addressed now to increase their potential for success.

Read early. Read often. hosts bi-monthly strategic doings meetings with library folks, nonprofit leaders, area social workers, and others interested in developing Oceana’s early literacy.   In the last two years, a major effort of this workgroup has been to identify and track important data points on the status of early literacy development in Oceana County.  The infographic developed provides a snapshot of early literacy: how our kiddos are meeting developmental norms, how data metrics are trending, and where we have room to grow.  It highlights the different efforts made in our community to improve early reading outcomes, including Free Little Libraries, the Dolly Parton Imagination Library, early literacy trainings, and more.  Check out the early literacy dashboard here to see how Oceana County’s youngest learners are doing!

To learn more about this program including how to get involved or get free children’s books for your organization, call our office at (231)869-3377.  You can follow the progress of this initiative at

To hear more about Read Early. Read Often. listen below!

Thank you to our funding partners:

Gerber Foundation
Children’s Trust Fund
Great Lakes Energy People Fund Grant
Women Who Care of Oceana County
Shelby Optimist Club
William R. Lathers Trust
CEDAM (Community Economic Development Association of Michigan) Rural Partners of Michigan Grant
Individual donors – Max & Evelyn Kokx, Jean Miller, Doug Ruby & Mary, Geoffrey & Gail Turk, Joan Lound, Mark and Mary Jane Benner, Barbara Rohwer, Lois and William Lydens
Shelby ECC (Early Childhood Center) staff
Shelby Public Schools Parent Teacher Organization
Community Foundation for Oceana County Grants:
Youth Advisory Council, Thomas Pische Memorial Fund, Little Point Sable Arts for Oceana County Fund, Mary Ann Peterson “Grandma Pete” Fund, Ralph’s Kids Fund, Nancy Zielinski Fund, Ordoobadi Family Fund

Looking for books? Check out Oceana's Free Little Libraries!

In collaboration with Eagle Scout Thomas Carey from Shelby Troop #1151 and a grant from the Rural Council of Michigan, three Little Free Libraries were built in an outreach effort to the outlying townships of Oceana County in 2018.   These Little Libraries were placed in Benona, Golden, and Ferry Townships, areas without local schools or libraries for easy access.  United Way also partnered with RERO to install five additional Little Libraries in area communities.  Throughout the pandemic, additional little libraries were popping up across the County; some built and installed by community members, others by local businesses.  RERO stocks all 12 little libraries throughout our County with books on a monthly basis and a map of locations is available on the Community Foundation website.  These Free Little Libraries have been utilized to a great extent during the Pandemic, in a time when local libraries and schools were unable to service families.

To locate one of Oceana’s 15 Free Little Libraries, check out our map for their addresses! 

Reach out to our Read early. Read often. staff for any assistance or questions:

Teresa Mead
Read Early. Read Often Program Coordinator
231.869.3377 Office


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