Early learning group wins grant for literacy work

Thrive by Five Washington awarded $50,000 to the Early Learning Coalition to buy books.

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WALLA WALLA -- The Walla Walla Valley Early Learning Coalition recently secured a $50,000 grant from Thrive by Five Washington to support literacy among the area's youngest children.

The award will be used to secure thousands of books for local programs, with the goal of getting the books to area families with young children.

Program manager Samantha Bowen said the Early Learning Coalition will make the books available at places that families regularly visit, like the Post Office, with each family getting to take a book home.

Books will also be added to the local "Reach Out and Read" program, which gets books to families through pediatricians. The coalition has been working with family practitioners at Family Medical Center and Providence St. Mary Medical Center to carry out the Reach out and Read program, and will soon be expanding. Through the program, children get to take a book home with every well-check visit, Bowen said.

Part of the grant will also go to coordinating literacy-focused play groups and activities to eventually reach informal care providers, such as relatives, friends and neighbors, who care for young children. The coalition is also working to encourage literacy among teen parents and immigrant families through training and materials.

The overall aim of the grant is to promote literacy among families through programs and activities, and through the simple gesture of getting new, high-quality books into families' hands, Bowen said.

"The reality in our community is many families with small children do not have age-appropriate books in their homes," Bowen said in announcing the award. "Often parents tell us they feel uncomfortable reading children's books or do not know how to read to their small child."

Thrive by Five Washington and the Early Learning coalition support research that shows an early introduction to literacy, to include reading and speaking often to children ages birth to 5, helps youth thrive once they start school.

Walla Walla was among four early learning coalitions statewide, representing 12 counties, that received the first round of funding from Thrive by Five Washington as part of a greater $300,000 "Culture of Literacy" initiative. Thrive by Five Washington is a nonprofit agency focused on supporting early learning, and is investing in its "Culture of Literacy" effort to expand early literacy programs throughout the state.

Maria P. Gonzalez can be reached at mariagonzalez@wwub.com or 526-8317. Check out her blog at blogs.ublabs.org/schoolhousemissives.

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