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Book program brings great stories to Alabama children

Dr. Marsha Raulerson reads to a couple of young patients in her Brewton practice. PHOTO BY LORI QUILLER

By Lori M. Quiller

Dr. Seuss said it best in his book I Can Read with My Eyes Shut! “The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more you learn, the more places you’ll go.” And, that’s a primary mission for about 300 Alabama pediatricians and Reach Out and Read-Alabama.

Reach Out and Read-Alabama has helped put more than 1.6 million books in the hands of Alabama’s children. Most of these children are in lower income households and books are a luxury the family often cannot afford. But, the gift of a book is more than the gift of adventure – it’s an opportunity for bonding between parent and child.

Eleven years ago, Brewton pediatrician Dr. Marsha Raulerson helped launch Reach Out and Read-Alabama, incorporating books into pediatric care and encouraging families to read aloud together.

“We’ve given out truckloads of books to our patients,” Raulerson says. “I give a book to every child for every visit, no matter what the age of the child. My community probably contributes about $10,000 a year so we can buy new books because every patient can have a new book.”

In fact, no child who visits Raulerson’s clinic leaves empty-handed. The books she chooses for her patients are not only age-appropriate, but also story-appropriate to each patient’s particular situation. The majority of her patients have special needs, and each book is intended to give her patients hope.

“In Alabama, about 91 percent of our children receive their medical care from either their pediatrician or family physician,” explained Reach Out and Read-Alabama’s Statewide Coordinator Polly McClure. “The way Reach Out and Read works is to use those physicians and medical professionals to introduce the importance of reading to their children and their parents.”

According to the 2017 Alabama Kids Count Data Book, published by VOICES for Alabama’s Children, about 34 percent of children under the age of 5 live in single-parent households and about 27 percent live in poverty. Reach Out and Read-Alabama works to fill some of the gaps a struggling, single parent may face in the early development of their child.

By “prescribing” books to children and encouraging families to read together, children acquire early language skills and build a better foundation for a lifetime of learning. Dothan pediatrician Dr. Michelle Freeman realized early on in her career the value of the Reach Out and Read-Alabama program.

“It creates a library of books for the child, many whom otherwise would not have access to books,” Freeman says. “It also gives me an opportunity as a pediatrician to emphasize to parents the importance of reading to their child. Not only does this help from an educational level, but it also encourages parents to spend quality time with their children. But seeing the joy on the face of a 3-year-old child when they receive their book at their check-up is priceless!”

Dr. Bruce Petitt of West Alabama Pediatrics in Tuscaloosa agreed the Reach Out and Read-Alabama partnership helps not only reinforce the bond between family members but also strengthens the physician-patient relationship.

“Our patients and their families have loved getting a book at their check-up and look forward to seeing which book they’ll get at their next visit. It’s a great opportunity to praise the child’s emerging reading skills and to discuss how reading plays a role in optimal development,” Petitt says.

Reach Out and Read-Alabama provides new and gently used books to the more than 67 medical practices and clinics across the state that participate in the program. The program, which is an arm of the Alabama Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, holds fundraisers and creates partnerships with volunteer organizations such as the Montgomery Chapter of Public Relations Council of Alabama (PRCA).

“We created Change for a Child earlier this year as a way for our members to donate money during our monthly meetings and fellowship activities,” says Megan German Hughes, president of PRCA Montgomery. “We have these wonderful memories of our favorite books from our childhood and wanted to be part of the program providing these lifelong memories for children in Alabama. It’s an honor to be part of the Reach Out and Read-Alabama program and bring adventure and continuous learning opportunities to our families here in the River Region.”

To learn more about Reach Out and Read-Alabama, make a donation, or to partner with the organization, visit http://www.roralabama.org.