How a medical clinic incorporates the “Reach Out and Read” program

I‘ve always believed that each one of us can make a difference with our contributions of service ─ but when groups of people come together toward a common goal, they can go so much farther and deeper. The Reach Out and Read program is a great example.

Reach Out and Read (<>) is a nonprofit organization of doctors and nurses who promote early literacy and school readiness in pediatric exam rooms throughout our nation. They give out new books to children and share advice to parents about the importance of reading aloud. The organization got its start 25 years ago with a first program at a medical center in Boston. By its twelfth year, the model was operating in 50 states and some 1,500 sites ─ distributing 1.6 million books per year. Today, Reach Out and Read partners with nearly 5,000 program sites distributing 6.5 million books per year. The “reach” in its name is well-deserved ─ the program currently serves 4.2 million children and their families and more than one-third of all children living in poverty in the U.S.

What is so unique about this program and its contribution to child literacy? First and foremost, it recognizes that there is a truly special relationship that develops between parents and medical providers (e.g., doctors, dentists, nurses) in the early years of a child’s development. The research shows that most children and their families visit medical providers some 10 times over those early years – and medical providers are viewed as trusted, knowledgeable people in their lives. When medical providers speak to families and children about the importance of reading and literacy development, this can have a tremendous impact. The evidence collected by Reach Out and Read truly bears this out:

  • Reach Out and Read families read together more often.
  • Their children enter kindergarten better prepared to succeed, with larger vocabularies and stronger language skills.
  • During the preschool years, their children score three to six months ahead of their non-Reach Out and Read peers on vocabulary tests ─ and these early foundational skills help start children on a path of success when they enter school.

A win-win all around.

Impressed by this evidence, I recently contacted Reach Out and Read to see if I could donate copies of my children’s books to their program. I knew from the program’s website that major book publishers like Scholastic[1] provide books to Reach Out and Read but wondered if one children’s book author could contribute books as well. Reach Out and Read gratefully accepted my offer of book donations and referred me to one of their programs near my home ─the Trinity Free Clinic.

I didn’t know anything about the Trinity Free Clinic but learned from its website that it provides free medical, health and dental support to the uninsured and low-income residents of our county entirely through a volunteer professional staff of doctors, dentists, nurses, pharmacists, physical therapists, and others (some 500 people volunteer at the clinic). The clinic also focuses on linking families to needed community resources through social services, and providing health education. Since 2000, the clinic has served over 23,000 patients and now serves some 4,000 patient visits per year.

I wondered how important a Reach Out and Read program would be at a clinic that provides an extensive array of medical services (e.g., Medical Clinic for adults and children; Pediatric Clinic; Eye Clinic; Foot Care service; Asthma/Allergy Clinic; Women’s Health Clinic; and Acute Dental Clinic). When I visited the clinic to drop off my donation of books, the very welcoming staff made sure I got the full tour. And I learned that the clinic is committed to coupling medical services with needed community resources through social services and health education. For example, the police department donates car seats to the clinic so families can outfit their vehicles for baby or child car seats. And literacy is a key component of their services as well. Several windowsills on the big windows in the waiting room sport free books for adults donated from the public library or other sources. And there’s a dedicated room for children at one end of the waiting room, which includes books, toys, and child-friendly seating. There’s even a big rocking chair just calling for a reader to read to children.

I viewed first-hand how the Reach Out and Read program is an essential service among the many medical and health education services at the Trinity Free Clinic. Children and their families receive a new book to take home at each visit and medical providers advocate for the importance of reading aloud. This reinforces for me my two views ─that each one of us can make a difference with our contributions of service, and that when groups of people come together toward a common goal like building the Reach Out and Read Program or the Trinity Free Clinic, they will go so much farther and deeper to meet peoples’ needs.

Holly Zanville donates copies of her two latest books (Summer at the Z House and Sadie Cat’s Close Call) to the Reach Out and Read Program at the Trinity Free Clinic in Carmel, IN.  Zanville (seated); right to left: Debbie Truitt, Reach Out and Read Volunteer; Dina Ferchmin, Executive Director; Camille Nelsen, Volunteer Coordinator; Cindy Love, Medical Operations Director.


[1] Scholastic is the largest publisher and distributor of children’s books in the world, publishing more than 600 new titles a year for readers ages 0-18, in a variety of print and digital formats.

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