Literacy Group Reaches Out to Military Families

By Toni Maltagliati
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Oct. 24, 2007 - More than 12,000 children of servicemembers each year are getting a foundation for lifelong literacy from their doctors through an effort called "Reach Out and Read."

"Reach Out and Read presents a unique opportunity to support and strengthen military families with young children," said Carolyn Merrifield, a communications associate with Reach Out and Read. "While reading together provides important advantages for all families, military families who face the unique challenges of separation and deployment can reap special benefit from the comfort of this routine."

Reach Out and Read is a supporter of America Supports You, a Defense Department program connecting citizens and corporations with military personnel and their families serving at home and abroad.

The group is different from other national literacy programs in that it takes advantage of the trust parents have for pediatricians to plant the seed of reading. The group trains physicians and nurse practitioners to emphasize during preschool medical check-ups the importance of reading aloud to children. The benefits to tots can start as young as 6 months old, according to the group.

Every year, about 24,000 new, developmentally appropriate books are given to youngsters at seven military medical facilities to take home and read, according to a statement from the group. The Naval Medical Center in Portsmouth, Va.; Moncrief Army Community Hospital at Fort Jackson, S.C.; Air Force medical facilities at Fairchild Air Force Base, Wash., Dyess Air Force Base, Texas, and Keesler Air Force Base, Miss.; and the 121st General Hospital at Yongson Army Garrison, South Korea, currently participate.

Medical facilities at eight additional military sites are slated to become Reach Out and Read participants, according to Brian Gallagher, the group's national expansion manager.

"They went through the process, and they've been told that their programs are on hold for now," Gallagher said. The Defense Department funding has been obligated, he said, so now it's a matter of waiting until the funds are allocated and disbursed.

Adding eight military medical facilities to the program could more than double the number of military families whose children will get a head start on learning to recognize letters and other language skills. Reading failure, according to the group, has been linked to many problems for children later on in life, from dropping out of school to substance abuse.

"In order or learn to read in school, children's brains to be 'prepped' by robust exposure to words and language, shaping the brain architecture that provides the foundation for later reading ability," said Merrifield.

About one-third of children in the United States start kindergarten without the language skills they need to learn how to read, according to the group. Reach Out and Read officials say they aim to remedy this, one book at a time.

*Related Sites:*
Reach Out and Read  [ ]
Literacy Group Reaches Out to Military Families [ ]