Today, I’d like to share with you the amazing work done by a group of committed volunteers who are helping to improve literacy in our community.

For the past 13 years, national non-profit Reach Out and Read has been operating in Oregon with the mission of improving early language development and literacy among children. The organization has a focus on supporting well-child clinics that provide care to low-income, high-Medicaid populations, targeting children from the age of 6 months to 5 years. The program trains and supports medical providers who give an age appropriate book to children during health exams, along with advice to parents about the importance of reading aloud.

Two years ago, The Oregon Community Foundation, Kelly Family Foundation and Knowledge Universe provided the funding for Oregon to start their own coalition to support ROR on a local level. These grants ran out this past October when state funding began coming in, which is only a third of the initial funding from the other donors. Even with this deficit, the state funding has ensured the survival of the coalition to continue overseeing effective implementation and quality of the ROR model.

And this is exactly the kind of initiative we need to be supporting in Oregon to help all of our children get the education they deserve.

According to Reach Out and Read, 40 percent of children in Oregon enter kindergarten without the necessary tools they need to learn to read, and those kids who start behind stay behind for life. Oregon is currently ranked 37th among 50 states for fourth grade reading standards. Adding to the challenge, 43 percent of children in Oregon live in low-income families and 61 percent of low-income families do not have any books in their homes. Based on the obstacles facing Oregon children learning to read, the work done by ROR is absolutely vital. In just two years, ROR has added 25 new sites and Reach Out and Read Oregon now has 58 sites and serves 106,000 well-checks annually.

ROR is also able to train medical providers either online or in-person. State funding allowed for continuation of the in-person training, while ROR is seeking additional funding to return to their level of growth from two years ago of 12.5 sites added annually. There are currently a number of sites in Salem and Woodburn planning to adopt the Reach Out and Read model, but there remains a lack of funding. ROR serves 8,682 well-checks annually in Salem, while there is currently no coverage in Woodburn.

Because investments in ROR today pay dividends for our state for a very long time, it’s crucial that more local kids gain access to this initiative.

Studies show that the gains made toward kindergarten readiness follow the child through their school experience and improve high school graduation rates and college attendance; while life outcomes indicate these interventions also improve employment rates and earnings, juvenile and adult crime stats, and welfare dependency.

That’s why I’m such a big supporter of Reach Out and Read and why I’ll be doing all I can to make sure that this vital program continues to improve literacy among Oregon’s kids.

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