After three years of growth within The Literacy Cooperative, Reach Out and Read Greater Cleveland is ready to reach out on its own.
September marks the end of a 3-year Bruening Foundation grant that funded a full-time Literacy Cooperative staff member and other expenses related to supporting Reach Out and Read. Reach Out and Read will continue serving children and families in Greater Cleveland through a partnership with Cleveland Public Library.
For the last three years, Lynn Foran, a Literacy Cooperative employee, served as the coordinator of Reach Out and Read Greater Cleveland (RORGC). Before her leadership, the 20+ year old organization was completely volunteer-run, but the Bruening Foundation saw an opportunity for growth facilitated by The Literacy Cooperative.
“We knew we wanted to host RORGC with an organization connected to the community, especially as it pertains to early literacy – and that was The Literacy Cooperative,” said Jeanine Gergel of Foundation Management Services, which services The Bruening Foundation.
Gergel said the nearly fifteen-year history of The Literacy Cooperative being Greater Cleveland’s convening agent for partners in literacy made the organization an obvious choice.
The grant is a part of Bruening’s Strong Start initiative, designed to “reduce poverty and expand economic prosperity in Cuyahoga County by investing in efforts that help disadvantaged families ensuring that every child gets a strong start in life.”
It aligns with the mission of Reach Out and Read Greater Cleveland, which is to provide a foundation for success through pediatric care, using books and reading aloud to impact the health and development of children and families.
Foran works across the region’s health systems to help pediatricians, family medicine doctors, and nurse practitioners incorporate early literacy guidance into regular checkups and to distribute important information about early literacy and brain development. At each regular visit through the five-year-old checkup, the family has a conversation with their child’s medical provider about how and why it is important to read aloud with their young child, and the child goes home with a new book.
Research finds that children served by Reach Out and Read score three to six months ahead of others on their vocabulary tests because they are regularly read aloud to. Early foundational language skills like this help children begin strong on a path of success.
One of The Literacy Cooperative’s focus areas is to help support families during their child’s first five years of life and identifying the appropriate message and appropriate messenger is critical. Pediatricians are a trusted source of information for families.
“When Jeanine Gergel and I first talked about this funding it was really a win-win situation,” said Bob Paponetti, President & CEO of The Literacy Cooperative. “We were able to help fortify an already impressive organization and test whether we could leverage the relationship pediatricians have with families to connect them to other important resources in the community.”
The results proved that The Literacy Cooperative and Reach Out and Read could do just that.
Over the past three years, Foran has grown Reach Out and Read Greater Cleveland from 23 health system sites to 33 and has facilitated the distribution of 86,000 new books and doctor-parent conversations.
“Having that pediatrician aspect is so important, and The Literacy Cooperative knows that,” Paponetti said. “We need to reach parents and let them know how important reading is to childhood development. We don’t have a relationship with them – but the doctors do. And most parents trust their doctor.”
The organizations worked together with Pre4CLE, Starting Point, and Invest in Children to form the Preschool Prescription initiative. The goal is to increase awareness of and enrollment at quality preschools through pediatrician recommendations using “The Night Before Preschool” book given at the doctor’s office. Since its start, more families are calling Starting Point to learn about quality preschool and enrollment has risen.
Dr. Robert Needlman founded ROR, a national organization, in 1989. He said the partnership with The Literacy Cooperative strengthened Reach Out and Read to be recognized as a critical part of the literacy landscape.
In 2017, soon after Foran joined The Literacy Cooperative, it became the local affiliate of Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library. In this program an enrolled child receives a brand new, age-appropriate book in the mail monthly until their fifth birthday. Foran led the design, implementation, and rollout of the program in the Cleveland area during her time at The Literacy Cooperative.
“It was a wonderful collaboration,” Needlman said. “Lynn was able to utilize the Reach Out and Read provider network to connect the Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library program and integrated the new Preschool Prescription initiative into doctor’s offices to benefit Pre4Cle and Starting Point’s work. We wouldn’t have been able to do it on our own.”
Every month, Dr. Needlman, Foran and Paponetti met to discuss the partnership and future goals. Paponetti said those regular meetings were critical to the success of the partnership – and in the end, launched a partnership that truly supports both organizations’ mission.
In August, Foran took on new responsibilities as Executive Director of ROR Greater Cleveland. Although she is leaving The Literacy Cooperative as a staff member, she will continue as a strong partner. She said she’s excited to watch the organization expand from the connections she’s made in the community, as well as continue collaboration with Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library and The Literacy Cooperative.
“I’m excited to help more parents understand the importance of reading to a child,” Foran said. “A child’s education begins at birth when the brain is rapidly developing. Snuggling up with an infant, toddler or preschooler to share a book is a joyful way to feed a young brain. Start early, too – don’t wait until they can bring you a book.”