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Read Early Read Often program turning the page on children’s literacy

Since its creation in 2016, as a leadership initiative of the Community Foundation for Oceana County, Oceana Read Early. Read Often. (RERO) has been working hard to make children’s books and early literacy resources accessible and equitable across the county. Providing books and educational activities to the families of young children can encourage later academic excellence, as access to literacy resources is associated with higher education attainment.  In the past five years, RERO has grown and flourished, providing over 36,000 books to Oceana kids!

By providing books to food pantries, libraries, social service agencies, and more, RERO is making books a toybox staple.  The Community Foundation for Oceana County (CFOC) funds and leads this effort.  CFOC Chief Executive Officer Tammy Carey explained “education is a priority area for our Foundation and Read early. Read often. is an investment in our community and our little ones that has widespread impact.”  In addition to providing reading materials to area partners, RERO hosts a quarterly workgroup meeting with local nonprofits, area social workers, and other partners working towards improving early literacy measures. Growth of this initiative is a product of collaboration and support. RERO has evolved into a gathering place not only for literacy initiatives, but inclusive of all early childhood happenings in Oceana County. Bringing together partners such as Great Start Collaborative, United Way of the Lakeshore, and Power Book Bags- together, we are able to create a more vibrant future for Oceana’s youngest readers.

The Mason-Lake-Oceana Great Start Collaborative (GSC) works to align, coordinate, and invest in the state’s early learning system.  GSC routinely identifies the needs of children and families in the tri-county region and takes concrete actions to address them. The Collaborative convenes four times a year, holds monthly parent coalition meetings, and brings together workgroups.   To improve outcomes in literacy, each County has their own workgroup, and RERO serves this role in Oceana.  “Strategic Doings, the early literacy workgroup, is an extraordinary partnership in Oceana County,” explain GSC Coordinator Sara Jeruzal, “we work together to improve early literacy outcomes for children by strengthening and providing opportunities for reading. As a group, we’ve identified a need to align, coordinate, and invest in ways to help grow children’s passion for reading.”  Great Start Collaborative partners with RERO to share event information, spread books/child resources, and Talking is Teaching programming which focuses on parent empowerment.

United Way of the Lakeshore (UWL) provides an array of services, including programs for financial stability, health, and community impact studies.  UWL is a proud partner of Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library (DPIL), a nonprofit that mails registered children, ages 0-5, a free book monthly. The books are age-appropriate, and available in both English and Spanish.  From 2018 to 2020, the percentage of eligible Oceana kiddos registered for DPIL grew from 21% to 41%.  This program alone has put over 17,000 books into the hands of Oceana’s youngest readers!  Barbara Sims, UWL Director, stated “I am excited to see the impact that our Dolly Parton Imagination Library resources have added to our Oceana RERO partnership and celebrate the steady and significant gains in emergent and early literacy in our youngest children.”  Together with RERO, United Way of the Lakeshore has hosted book drives, collaborated on building Little Libraries, and so much more. To register for DPIL, contact your local library today, or UWL Oceana Director Barbara Sims at barbara@unitedwaylakeshore.org.

As the newest addition to Oceana’s coalition of child-based nonprofit organizations, Power Book Bags is making big waves! Power Book Bags is a Michigan-based organization that spans across twenty different counties. They believe that each child as the right to read, and work towards the goal of increasing the availability of children’s books. After receiving grants from the Community Foundation for Oceana County and Great Start Collaborative, Power Book Bags hopes to soon deliver bundles of books and activities to children in Oceana’s foster care system and Head Start programs.  They highlight the intersection of literacy with day-to-day play. RERO is excited to work with Power Book Bags in their united goal of helping area children develop a love of reading.

Since 2016, the early literacy landscape of our County has changed tremendously! According to Teaching Strategies Gold Curriculum observational measures, taken at preschool intake, there have been several positive changes:

  • 78% use and appreciate books, a sharp increase from 2017’s 53%,
  • 61% interact during reading experiences, book conversations, and text reflections, another increase from 53% in 2017, and
  • 61% use emergent reading skills, up from 53% in 2017.

Additional impact is seen in feedback from partners requesting more books, as children are excited about growing their personal libraries. Early literacy intervention requires a community united for change, spanning larger than a single family or organization. Working together creates a big impact on the futures of young readers by offering parents a network of programming.

Oceana’s early literacy workgroup is constantly seeking volunteers to come around the table and discuss potential outreach and book distribution locations, folks to box up books for local organizations or deliver them, and a variety of other opportunities.  To get involved, reach out to CFOC Program Officer/RERO Coordinator Danielle Siegel at 231-869-3377 or email danielle@oceanafoundation.org