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The Community Foundation for Oceana County (CFOC) is pleased to announce a new partnership with the Gerber Foundation to support the early literacy initiative, Read early. Read often (RERO).  CFOC received a $5,850 grant to support the purchase and distribution of quality children’s books to Oceana County children and families. Pictured is Tammy Carey (left), Executive Director of the Community Foundation for Oceana County standing with Danielle Siegel, Read early. Read often. Coordinator for the check presentation from Catherine Obits, Program Manager at Gerber Foundation. Also featured is Grace and Elyse presenting their earnings from summer bake sales which they chose to donate to Read early. Read often.  Community Volunteerism starts young!

Established in 1952 as the Gerber Baby Foods Fund by Daniel Gerber, Sr. and Gerber Products Company, the Gerber Foundation provides support to various organizations. While the Gerber name may imply a strict interest in infant nutrition, Dan Gerber felt a commitment to a much broader range of activities.

The mission of The Gerber Foundation, to enhance the quality of life of infants and young children in nutrition, care, and development, has remained the guiding beacon for Foundation giving throughout its history. Accordingly, priority is given to projects whose primary beneficiaries are young children from birth to three years of age.

The early literacy initiative aligns well with Gerber Foundation’s focus in Early Childhood Literacy and School Readiness. RERO advocates for reading aloud to babies and toddlers by older children and adults in a child’s life and increases awareness of the importance of early literacy in order to develop a child to be school ready.

Read early. Read often. strives to increase third grade reading levels as measured by statewide MSTEP testing.   Moving this metric requires shifting the culture around literacy to one that values reading, has books in the home, and promotes the reading to babies and toddlers.  With the help of the Gerber Foundation, RERO hopes to increase the number of books in the home and increase the average number of preschoolers who are reaching the developmental norms surrounding literacy. Another goal is to increase the number of community organizations, who will partner in book distribution and promote the importance of early literacy.

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. In contrast, nearly 60% who were reading above third-grade level, go on to higher education.  Accordingly, an analysis of existing data from more than 35,000 preschoolers revealed that reading skills at the point of school entry are consistently associated with higher levels of academic performance in later grades.  According to psychologists at the University of Kansas, children who are read to at home, on average, know 30 million more words than their counterparts, effectively entering school one year ahead, creating a wide achievement gap.

A groundbreaking analysis by 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 study found that having as few as twenty books in the home 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.  The results of this study indicate that getting books into homes in Oceana County will help our children succeed.

Book distribution throughout Oceana County happens through the partnerships of many different community organizations including nonprofit agencies, business, churches, and more.  Distributions to organizations such as Infant and Maternal Health or WIC provide books to their clients and families.  Daycare providers now have full bookshelves in their homes.  And, families who access resources through the Oceana Hispanic Center, the Health Project in Shelby, or area food pantries are able to choose free children’s books to take home with them.

Thus far in 2018, RERO and partners distributed 4,861 books!  Further, over 800 of them were Spanish or Bilingual. Most recently, nearly 700 books were distributed at community Christmas celebrations – often by Santa himself.

With the support of the Gerber Foundation RERO will be able to reach more families and children within Oceana County!