How one organization supports early childhood literacy for the most vulnerable
Nearly two out of every three children in low-income communities don’t own a single children’s book, a fact that ultimately could have profound impacts even before entering kindergarten, according to Arizona nonprofit Southwest Human Development.
“Research shows that all children benefit from a high-quality early childhood education experience, and that quality early education is especially important for children growing up in low-income families,” says Jake Adams, Southwest Human Development’s chief development officer.
In fact, the years before kindergarten are critical to development, which is why Southwest Human Development helps promote early literacy for children in the community.
“Our early literacy programs help young children build the skills they need to become successful readers now, while laying the foundation for lifelong literacy,” Adams says.
For example, the nonprofit’s Reach Out and Read program works with pediatricians to incorporate books and talking with parents about the importance of reading together as a family during the child’s well-child checkups. Waiting rooms also promote literacy and each child leaves with a new book of their own.
“In literacy-rich waiting room environments, often staffed with volunteer readers, parents and children learn about the pleasures and techniques of looking at books together,” Adams says. “As an added component, gently-used books are also available for siblings and other children to take home and keep.”
This disparity is compounded by the COVID-19 pandemic, which is limiting children’s access to books outside of their temporary home-learning environments. A recent NIEER study, funded in part through PNC Grow Up Great®, found that parents and caregivers are spending less time reading to children during the pandemic—85-percent pre-pandemic and 71-percent during—and that children ages 3 to 5 have lost important learning opportunities.
Recently, the PNC Foundation provided $147,000 in funding to support the Reach Out and Read program and several other SWHD programs that support young children.
“Southwest Human Development’s reputation and status as one of the nation’s largest early childhood nonprofits make them a great fit for our philanthropic involvement,” Cathleen Walker, PNC regional president and head of corporate banking for Arizona, said in a news release. “Its mission of helping Arizona’s children and families succeed is paramount and we’re excited to be a part of its efforts.”
In addition to Reach Out and Read, PNC has provided support for these Southwest Human Development programs:
- Journey Through Books — This professional development program coaches early childhood professionals to incorporate books and reading into daily programming at child care centers.
- Birth to Five Helpline 877-705-KIDS (5437) — This free service is available in English and Spanish for Arizona families with young children and professionals looking for the latest child development information from experts in the field.
- Family Assistance Fund — This fund has provided immediate basic needs to under-resourced and under-served families during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Early childhood is such a critical time to ensure children reach their fullest potential in life,” Ginger Ward, CEO of Southwest Human Development, said. “We’re proud that PNC has recognized Southwest Human Development as a long-time advocate for quality early childhood education.”
The PNC Foundation, principally funded through the PNC Financial Services Group, focuses on early childhood education and community and economic development. Its signature cause, PNC Grow Up Great®, a bilingual $500 million, multi-year initiative, helps prepare children from birth to age 5 for success in school and life.
“The PNC Foundation has a widely known reputation for supporting and understanding the long-term importance of investments in our youngest children,” Ward added.
You can contribute to local childhood literacy, too, as part of the Grow a Reader Virtual Book Drive by visiting www.swhd.org/gar and choosing books to buy online for donation. You can claim up to $800 on your Arizona taxes with the Arizona Charitable Tax Credit for any donations made through the online shopping cart.
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