25 Years of Changing Lives, One Book at a Time

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Children's View

Twins Tamairra and Tiairra were infants when Trude Haecker, MD, now Medical Director of Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia’s Reach Out and Read program, gave the girls their first book. Until that moment, their mother, Tamia, was unaware of the importance of reading to her children.

One book led to many. As teenagers, the girls were accepted into a competitive Philadelphia magnet school, an accomplishment Tamia attributes to Reach Out and Read.

“I grew up without books,” says Tamia. “If it wasn’t for Dr. Haecker telling me I should read to the girls, I probably wouldn’t have.”

This integration of books into healthcare is the cornerstone of Reach Out and Read, a national nonprofit that gives children like Tamairra and Tiairra an early foundation for success by providing new books at well visits and encouraging families to read aloud together.

This year, CHOP Reach Out and Read celebrates its 25th anniversary. Funded entirely by donors, the program now includes 27 participating CHOP practices and has distributed 1.7 million books. In 2020 alone, despite the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, CHOP pediatricians and nurse practitioners sent home more than 80,000 books.

Caring for the whole child

Research shows the impact of reading aloud to children also extends beyond school readiness. Shared reading not only promotes early language development, but also strengthens the bond between a caregiver and their child.

Says Haecker, “This bond is the foundation of a child’s early relational health. It’s a critical force in a child’s well-being and serves as a protective factor against adverse experiences and stress, an outcome that’s been particularly relevant during the pandemic and social unrest of the last year.”

By modeling positive parenting interactions through reading, a clinician provides a personalized intervention that can ultimately be life changing.

“I’ve witnessed the power of books to make a difference in a young child’s life,” says Haecker. “We’re helping parents understand that books are just as important as vaccines and nutrition, and we’re providing books many of our patients may not otherwise have access to. This is about health equity.”

With a grant from the Vanguard Strong Start for Kids ProgramTM, CHOP Reach Out and Read plans to expand by 2022 to include babies as young as 1 month.

“Literacy is a direct correlation to success,” says David Rosenberg, a major supporter of CHOP Reach Out and Read since 2003. “If we make a difference in one child’s life, we change the course of the world.”

— Abbey Nash

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