Cuyahoga County Public Library Connects Residents with Critical Benefits and Services

When most people think “library,” the image that pops into their heads is stacks of books; a hushed, almost solemn atmosphere; and librarians ready to shush at a moment’s notice. It’s an antiquated image that continues to linger with us from the long-past era of card catalogs and due date cards. While it’s true that lending materials – especially books – remains libraries’ core business, the truth is they have become so much more than mere book repositories. Over the past decade or so, libraries have reinvented themselves, emphasizing service, technology and community-based education. They have transformed into community hubs dedicated to reading, lifelong learning and civic engagement.

A new collaboration between Cuyahoga County Public Library, Cleveland Public Library and Cuyahoga County government to provide county residents with convenient access to benefits resources, educational opportunities and workforce development programs clearly illustrates this transformation. Together, public libraries and county government are bringing critical services and adult education opportunities into our neighborhoods like adult basic literacy classes and benefits assistance.

Cuyahoga County Executive Armond Budish has called this collaboration, “an exciting innovative partnership with our County and Cleveland Libraries that will significantly further two of our top priorities – putting our residents on a path to a career with a family sustaining wage, and making County services more easily available throughout our neighborhoods.”

Benefit Navigators

Many county residents need medical, financial and other assistance programs, but find it difficult to travel to the county’s downtown offices to enroll. For these residents, Cuyahoga County Public Library (and soon Cleveland Public Library) offers convenient locations where they can access eGovernment assistance programs and receive assistance from trained library staff members in applying for food, medical and child care assistance. Cuyahoga County Public Library staff members are trained “Benefit Navigators” available seven days a week to help residents in need.

Aspire Greater Cleveland

It has been estimated that as many as 150,000 Cuyahoga County residents do not have a high school diploma. Thanks to Aspire Greater Cleveland – a collaboration between Cuyahoga County Public Library, Cleveland Public Library, Cuyahoga County government and the Ohio Department of Higher Education – county residents can benefit from free adult education opportunities in public libraries throughout Cuyahoga County. Aspire Greater Cleveland offers:

  • Basic adult literacy instruction
  • High school equivalency exam prep
  • English for speakers of other languages (ESOL) classes

Aspire Greater Cleveland also works with local employers to develop customized skills training through its Workplace Education Program. The program helps employees build basic literacy skills, prepare for certification testing or earn a diploma. For more information, visit or call the 24-hour assistance line at 1833-ASPIRE2 (833-277-4732).

Click here and here for to watch videos with more information about these new programs and offerings.

Click here for an audio interview.

Adult Education and Family Literacy Week – Agustin’s Story

(This week is Adult Education and Family Literacy Week. It is a week to highlight the impact and importance of adult literacy not only on the students but on their families as well. Below is an inspiring story of one adult education student from the Tri-C Aspire program.)

Agustin Torres is a former Aspire (Tri-C GED® preparation class) student who received his Official GED® diploma in 2011.  He is enrolled in the  Tri-C Mandel Scholars Academy and will graduate in spring 2018.  He will transfer to Case Western Reserve in the fall to complete his Bachelor’s degree in Humanities.

His journey to this point in his life started when his probation officer referred him to Tri-C Aspire for GED® Preparation Classes.  He attended Mr. Elliot Huff’s (An Aspire instructor) class at U.S. District Courthouse.  Although his friends and family told him that education was a waste of time, he continued to work toward his goal.  His dedication and efforts paid off because Agustin was the first student to pass the Official GED® test from the U.S. District Court House class.  After he passed the Official GED® Test, he worked part time for the Aspire program.  Unfortunately, because of family illness, he moved back to Mexico for a year and a half.

When he returned Cleveland, he knew he wanted to accomplish more in life.  He contacted Mr. Huff to ask for advice.  Mr. Huff told him that without education you will not get far in life and encouraged him enroll at Tri-C.  Agustin says that those words affected him and he decided to enroll.  He started in the ESL program at Tri-C, and then college courses.  After trying different courses and programs, he applied for the Mandel Scholars Academy.  He was accepted into the academy and loves it.

Agustin was able to accomplish his goals thanks to wonderful mentors like Mr. Elliot Huff.  Additionally, the Tri-C TRIO program ( A program that identifies students who show potential for success and provides encouragement, support, and assistance) helped him very much.  His advice to students is “Do not give up. It doesn’t matter if it is million times, but keep trying”.

He plans are continue his studies, write a book and be a voice for the less fortunate.

Learn more about Tri-C’s Aspire program here. Also be sure to keep up with Tri-C on their Twitter and Facebook pages.


How Has Literacy Empowered You? – International Literacy Day 2017

Photos from last year’s International Literacy Day

On Friday, September 8th the world will join together to celebrate the importance of literacy and reading on International Literacy Day. International Literacy Day is a day created by UNESCO to raise awareness about literacy and what being literate can mean for a person and a community.

For the last 3 years, The Literacy Cooperative has been celebrating International Literacy Day with a social media campaign. Each year we pick a theme and ask everyone in Northeast Ohio, as well as our followers on our social media platforms, to post pictures around that theme. We use your pictures and posts to help raise awareness about the importance of literacy.  To see a wrap up for the last two campaigns, be sure to check out our Storifys here and here.

We have spent most of 2017 raising awareness about the power of words. Since March we have been promoting and raising awareness about the 30 Million Word Gap. The 30 Million Word Gap states that children in low-income families will have heard 30 million fewer words by age 4 than their more affluent peers. (

Speaking, reading and singing are essential actions to build a baby’s brain. (Learn more here). The power of words never fades. Literacy and the skills learned as a child only grow as a child grows. Literacy becomes more and more important as a child becomes an adult.

That is why this year our theme for International Literacy Day is “How has literacy empowered you?” We are asking people to share how being literate has helped their life. Has literacy empowered you to find a voice you never had before? Or has it given you courage or determination to overcome challenges in your life?

On September 8th, share a picture of yourself with a sign displaying a word or phrase about how literacy has empowered you or a picture of you reading and a word or phrase about the power of literacy in your post. We ask that you post the pictures and explanations to your social media platforms with #powerofwordsCLE.

We want to use a day dedicated to the importance of literacy to show the world how words empower us every day. We take for granted the number of words we know and hear day in and day out. By raising awareness about the power of literacy we can help people understand why speaking, reading and singing with children is so important.

We will be posting on our social media platforms, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, all day on Friday September 8th. We will be sharing and commenting on posts throughout the day. We hope you will join us for this very important celebration. We hope to see #powerofwordsCLE trending to show the world that Cleveland understands the power of literacy and words.

Integrating Brain Building into Your Everyday Routine

Closing the word gap does not require complicated equipment or long hours spent in special classes. There are no PhD degrees needed. It is as simple as talking, singing and reading with your kids every day beginning at birth. Although you may think your baby cannot understand what you are saying, your words help to build and develop their brain. It is as simple as paying attention to the opportunities the day gives you. Your daily routine is full of moments to help build your child’s brain. Many do not realize that it is the short simple moments that can make all the difference.

Take a look at the following example of an average daily routine. Does it sound familiar?

Your alarm goes off and you quickly get up and begin to prepare for the day ahead. You shower and get yourself ready before the baby wakes up and the other children get out of bed.

Once you’ve managed to get the kids out of bed, you move to the baby’s room and get them dressed and change their diaper. Once the kids are up and moving you head to the kitchen to prepare breakfast and lunches. As they eat you get the last things you need for your day set. Then it is finding backpacks, homework and shoes and getting into the car. You drive them to school (or summer camp), drop them off and head off for your day with the baby. Whether that is going to work, running errands, doing housework or whatever else your day may consist of that needs to be done before the school day (or summer camp) is over.

The final bell rings and you gather the kids into the car for the drive home with the baby in the backseat.  Once home it is time for homework, checking in on the day and preparing dinner. Dinner is eaten and you have a few hours to unwind, maybe you switch on the TV, the baby beside you, in a swing or on a play mat with some toys or the kids go off to their rooms while you relax, before it is time for shower/baths and the bedtime routine. Once the kids are asleep you finish up your night and then head off to bed, ready to do it all again tomorrow.

Do bits and pieces of this sound familiar? Are you reading it over and wondering where the extra time needed to build your child’s brain is?  No extra time is needed; it is more about using certain moments differently.

Let’s take another look at that day again.  In the morning as your older kids are dressing you are getting the baby ready for the day. This doesn’t need to be a silent endeavor. As you change and dress your baby, talk about what you are dressing them in. “Let’s wear your green duck shirt today!” Or a simple game of peek-a-boo, “Where’s Mommy/Daddy? Here I am!” would be a great way to start the day.

In the morning as the kids are eating breakfast, what else is going on? Is it quiet? Is everyone absorbed in their own tasks? This moment would be the perfect time to hand them a book or read with them as they eat. Doesn’t even have to be a book; could be the back of the cereal box. Many of the boxes have mini-games to play, such as mazes and breaking codes. Sit down with them and do one of the games together. They get to hear new words and use problem solving skills while you get to have some bonding time with them.

Is the baby babbling away in a high chair as they eat breakfast? Make sure to include them in the conversation too! Ask them about what they are eating, “Are those bananas yummy?” If you are reading a story, be sure to share the pictures and colors with the baby as well. Point out an animal and say “Look at the puppy run!”

Are you making lunches as they eat? Why not talk to them about what you are doing? Instead of just chopping up lettuce, carrots and cucumbers for a salad, talk about the shapes you are cutting them into? Are they rectangles? Squares? Triangles? Talk about the color or smell. Ask your kids if they know how and where each vegetable grows.

The time in the car is another great moment to integrate some brain building tasks into your day. Instead of giving them a tablet or turning on a movie to occupy them, try playing a game of I Spy. As your drive point at a street sign and ask about the color or shape. When you stop at a STOP sign, spell the word out or have them point out the letters to you. You can also find some great silly and fun songs to sing together. (Here, here and here have some great ideas for songs to sing together.) Silly songs are great for all ages from infants to older children. Infants will benefit from the fun music and can babble along as you sing!

Dinner time presents great opportunities for including more talking, reading and singing into your day. As you cook have your children help.  Have them read the recipe with you. Talk about the measurements and the time needed for specific things to cook. You can even put the radio on and sing together as you work.

Helping with dinner doesn’t just have to be something to with only the older children. Make sure to have the baby in a high chair where you can watch them and talk with them as you cook. Narrating what you are doing is great, such as saying “Mommy/Daddy is going to stir the noodles. This is going to be so delicious!”

At the end of the day, instead of turning on the television and watching a rerun you can pull out a board game, build with blocks or color in a coloring book with your child. Those unwind hours can be a great time to do something creative and fun with your child.

For the smaller ones, toddlers and babies, set out a blanket with some interactive toys. (Be sure to limit background noise because too much noise has been shown to inhibit language development.) Let them play and talk with them as they play. Talk about the bunny or puppy stuffed animal they are playing with. If they are playing with a toy piano talk about the sounds it makes and colors on the instrument. Or even pick them up and take them to a window and talk about the stars and animals outside as you bounce them to sleep.

There is no better way to end the day than with a good bedtime story. Read aloud together a favorite book or pick something new. Read with your kids (even the infants) or have them read along with you or for young children, have them tell you the story based off the pictures. Even if your child can read on their own, many still enjoy that time reading together. Pick a longer chapter book and read a chapter a night.

As you can see integrating practices to build your child’s brain into your everyday routine doesn’t take fancy equipment, training or tools. You just need you, your child and a little creativity. Every day occurrences can be ideal times to build skills if you take the time to think about them. Especially for infants and toddlers this is a significant way to help build their skills. Just because they may not understand all the words you are saying does not mean those words aren’t helping their brains to grow. To learn more about how talking, reading and singing helps your baby’s brain grow be sure to read our other blog post here.

Summer is in full swing and you most likely have more time with your kids. Prevent “the summer slide,” the phenomenon where kids can lose some of their learning over the summer, by starting to add some of these things to your routine.

Use this time to test ways of integrating more talking, singing and reading into your everyday routine. Find out what works and what doesn’t. Do your kids prefer singing in the car versus the I Spy game? Do they like to help read the recipe instead of talking about the color or shape of foods? Do they have a favorite story that would be good to read during swim breaks?

Summer provides more time for testing some of these ideas. You have more time with your kids outside of school. As you can see these ideas are simple and quick but they can make all the difference.

We are spending the year raising awareness about the 30-million-word gap (learn more here) and what can be done to close it. Join in the discussion and share what you are doing with #wordgapcle on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.



Building Your Baby’s Brain

“They grow so fast,” is a common phrase parents of newborns and toddlers hear often. This is a true statement not just for their physical growth but their mental and developmental growth as well. Did you know that by the end of age 3, a child’s brain will have completed 85% of its physical growth? In these handful of years, the brain strengthens many of the areas of the brain that a child will need throughout their lifetime.

The brain is made-up of the neurons which broadcast messages using electrical and chemical signals. The connections between neurons are called synapses. These messages are the physical basis of learning and memory and are what build a baby’s brain. What the brain does is create a surplus of synapses and neurons, twice as many synapses as it will have in adulthood.

Throughout childhood and adolescence, a process called pruning takes place. The process involves keeping synapses that are used often and that are strong while removing synapses that are weak or rarely used. An example would be if a child hears language and conversation often, the language area of their brain strengthens and grows. If a child is rarely spoken to or hears most of their vocabulary and language from a screen, that area weakens and does not develop to its full potential. Genes provide a blueprint for the brain, but a child’s environment and experiences carry out the construction.

This construction and pruning process is why it is so important to talk, read and sing with your child from the very beginning of their lives. Hearing your voice, taking in the sounds and words around them allow them to build that language area of their brain. Strengthening their vocabularies and literacy skills will be essential for their success later on in their lives.

In 1995, Betty Hart and Todd R. Risely conducted a study that found children from low-income families will have heard 30 million less words than children from more affluent families by the age of four. They are not hearing words and are not using the language area of their brain which in turn means the brain is likely to prune those synapses, weakening that area. This is a process not easily reversed. This gap creates a serious disadvantage for children, a disadvantage that will follow them throughout their lives.

Bridging the gap and strengthening these synapses is not a herculean effort. It does not take expensive equipment or extra schooling. It is actually something that can be done easily and every day; talking with your child. Talking, singing and reading may seem like simple tasks but they are simple tasks that can make all the difference.

By talking with your child each day, while driving, cooking or getting ready in the morning, you are strengthening that vital part of their brain. You don’t have to have long complicated conversations. Simply describing how you are cutting up a banana for breakfast or what color the street signs you are driving by are, utilizes these synapses. Reading a book before bed and singing while cooking dinner also increase use of these vital areas of the brain.

The first few years of a child’s life are essential for development.  All parents want their children to succeed. One way to ensure this future success is by making sure that a child’s environment will aid their brain development. You feed your child nutritious food to help their bodies grow. Their brains need the same care and nutrition, provided through daily interactions. Adding talking, singing and reading to your everyday routine will help strengthen these vital areas of the brain.

This year we are working to increase awareness about the 30 million word gap and share ways to close it. Be sure to follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram as well as follow #wordgapcle to stay up to date on what we are doing and to learn more about the word gap and to promote the power of parent talk. Also be sure to share how you are working to build your child’s brain. Share pictures or videos of you reading or singing together with #wordgapcle. Help us spread awareness and show that it is possible to begin to close the gap.

(Article used for information in this post: