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Ferst paves futures

A child’s path to a bright future is paved with books.

That’s the motto of Ferst Readers of Lincoln County, a program that puts free books in the hands of children from birth to age 5.

Pam Womack and others on the community action team are on a two-fold mission. First, they are working to get every child in Lincoln County who fits the age criteria enrolled in the program. That’s 2,250 children and so far they’ve signed up a tad over 700.

Second, they’re looking for generous donors to pay for it.

Ferst Readers is a national non-profit foundation that mails age-appropriate books to children enrolled in the program each month. That’s 12 books a year for $36.

The way it’s set up, all children who register for the program will receive a book each month and their parents get a newsletter with each. It’s up to Womack and her group to procure the funding.

They have forms available at King’s Daughters Medical Center labor and delivery ward, at the WIC office, Head Start and the Lincoln County Public Library. Registration is also available online at www.ferstreaders.org or by calling 888-565-0177.

“We want to reach everybody, but especially we want to reach children who do not have books in their home for whatever reason,” she said. “Sometimes it’s economic reasons, sometimes it’s just because the parent doesn’t realize how important reading is.”

Womack said members of Ferst Readers of Lincoln County believe reading regularly with your children, starting at birth, greatly affects how well their brains develop and makes them better learners when they start school.

“Children who start kindergarten having had early reading experiences at home are happier and more successful students all through school,” she said.

That idea is backed up by Dawn Fuller, preschool director of Mamie Martin Preschool.

“Reading is the foundation of all learning,” she said. “It is so important for parents to read to their children. If we begin reading to our children from the time they are infants, they will establish a love of books. Toddlers will read a book by looking at pictures and begin to retell the story in their own words when parents take the time to read to them. By the time they are in preschool they will have learned a pattern of turning the pages, reading the words from left to right, associating letters with their sounds, and beginning to recognize sight words.”

Ferst Readers uses data from school test scores to regularly evaluate its program’s effectiveness. The data is provided by the school district but does not include identifying information on individual children.

This is the second year for the program. Womack and the other volunteers are working to gather donations from neighbors, civic groups, businesses, schools, local organizations and churches.

“We’re working very hard to secure the funds that we need,” she said. “If I had my whole budget, it would be about $79,000 every year. God has just provided money from different sponsors who were interested and different organizations who have written grants.”

She said groups can pool donations from members of various amounts to sponsor several children.

“We want to make the community aware of this and to make them understand that a very small contribution can make a very big difference in a child’s life. It helps the schools because children go to school ready,” she said.

Sponsorships are also available for patrons who want to purchase a year for a specific child. It’s $40 to name the child who will receive the service, she said.