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Partnership brings books to children

Photo by Heather Middleton

Photo by Heather Middleton

By Johnny Jackson

jjackson@henryherald.com

The Georgia Department of Human Services (DHS), and the Ferst Foundation for Childhood Literacy (FFCL), are partnering in an effort to provide free books to the state's youngest readers.

The two recently announced their arrangement to provide childhood literacy resources to children through the Ferst Foundation's Childhood Literacy Program. The goal, according to FFCL Operations Director James Locklin, is to address childhood literacy across the state of Georgia -- specifically in low-income families, and children in foster care, from birth until 5 years old.

Locklin said the partnership will afford every child enrolled in the state's Childcare and Parent Services (CAPS) Program, as well as children in foster care (up to 43,000), access to a free, age-appropriate book in the mail every month. He said it will bring the number of children served by FFCL to approximately 81,000 each month.

"Approximately 61 percent of low-income families do not have a single piece of reading material suitable for a child," said DHS Commissioner B.J. Walker. "Research has proven that children who do not have access to books, and are not read to during their critical brain-development period -- birth to 4 years old -- fall far behind those children who have parents, or caregivers, who read to them."

Children who have not already developed some basic literacy practices when they enter school, are three to four times, more likely to drop out in later years, added Locklin, citing a study by the National Adult Literacy Survey.

"Some of those numbers are frightening, and some of the results are phenomenal," said Locklin.

The operations director acknowledged that there are far-reaching benefits in advocating literacy, such as improving quality of life and economic prosperity in communities.

"A literate workforce creates better economic opportunities for local communities, and businesses look for a literate and trainable workforce," Locklin said.

"For 10 years, we have been giving books to Georgia's children to give our state an educated, competitive, and productive workforce," added FFCL Founder Robin Ferst. "As a result, our children are coming to school better prepared to learn to read, 33 to 44 percent better for those we have reached to date. I am thrilled that we will be able to extend this simple, cost- effective program throughout the state."

The Ferst Foundation has given more than 2.3 million books, over the past decade, to children in 75 of 159 of Georgia counties, according to Locklin. He said the organization's local affiliates, known as Volunteer Community Action Teams, have raised the funds necessary to serve more than 148,000 children, to date, from local individuals, businesses, and foundations.

The organization's goal, Ferst continued, is to make the free books available for children, ages birth to five, in every county in the state, by 2012.

The local, long-term goal is to provide reading materials to as many children as possible, according to Mike Griffin, the founder and chairman of the Ferst Foundation of Henry County, Inc. The local group is a Volunteer Community Action Team and affiliate of the statewide FFCL organization.

"Our game plan is to send 1,000 children books in 2011," said Griffin.

At $36 per child, over the course of a year, Ferst Foundation volunteers are tasked with raising funds for an annual budget of roughly $36,000.

Griffin said the local organization's next large fund-raiser will be its annual spring luncheon, in late April. He said the 2010 luncheon featured WSB-TV Anchor Monica Pearson as guest speaker, and raised some $6,000.

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On the net:

Ferst Foundation for Childhood Literacy: www.ferstfoundation.org