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Ferst Foundation effort in McDuffie County makes plea for funds

A program that started last year in McDuffie County with a bang could fizzle if funds do not start coming in by next month. The Ferst Foundation, which started in McDuffie County last September, provides age appropriate books monthly to children under the age of five across the state of Georgia.

There are 666 children currently receiving books in McDuffie County, according to Beverly Dunn, the workforce investment coordinator at Partners For Success, which coordinates the program locally.

Ms. Dunn said she received many pledges and donations when the program kicked off, but those are running out as the 12-month period ends. A committee met at Partners For Success last Tuesday to brainstorm how to raise more funds and increase continued awareness of the program in the community.

"This always happens as things get started. You get started and then things change, and you run into problems," said Gaye Vaughn, who first brought the Ferst Foundation idea to McDuffie County. "This is not unusual at all. ... I think we've had a great start."

In addition to Ms. Dunn and Ms. Vaughn, those in attendance at the meeting included Dot Knox, Jason Smith, Donna Branch, Anita Davis, Laura Hughes and Pat Farner, who volunteered to chair the committee.

"And let's don't forget that (the money we raise) is all going locally," Ms. Farner said. "It's not going anywhere else. It's for our kids here."

Ferst Founder and Chair Robin Ferst Howser said she began the program in Madison County in 1999 as an expansion of Dolly Parton's Imagination Library program to combat illiteracy.

According to Ferst Foundation literature, people in the United States who are illiterate represent 75 percent of the unemployed, 33 percent of mothers receiving aid, 85 percent of the juveniles who appear in court and 60 percent of prison inmates.

Mrs. Howser said learning to read is a process much like learning to speak or walk. It begins at birth. Reading regularly with children during their preschool years gives them the biggest boost toward a successful education.

Yet 61 percent of low-income households do not have a single book suitable for a child.

Regardless of their income level, children registered in the program receive a book every month through the mail.

"This program is so well done," Ms. Dunn said. "Other programs. ... are all so cumbersome because you have to get the books to the kids, and sometimes there's only one a year."

A committee at the Dollywood Foundation made up of education and child development experts selected the books that are used in the program. The Little Engine That Could is the first book each child receives and Look Out, Kindergarten, Here I Come is the final book received when the child turns five. Parents also receive a monthly newsletter of tips and activities to encourage the joy of reading together.

And the joy spreads throughout the family, according to Thomson resident Patrick West. Mr. West said his son, Keyon, began receiving the books when he was only two months old.

"With him being his age (1-year-old), it helps because it gives us something to do to read to him. Plus, it gives us the right type of books," Mr. West said. "They come with pictures and colors. And it helps familiarize him with the colors and figures, and it familiarizes him with words."

Mr. West said he and his wife, Klesha, both read to Keyon, and they were pleased to discover their 8-year-old son, Patrick, mimicking them.

"Patrick will sit Keyon in his lap and read to him," Mr. West said. "My wife read to Patrick when he was smaller, and the daycare did, too. We could tell a difference in his level when he was ready to start school."

Ms. Dunn said it costs $37 per year to send books to one child. It costs $1,700 every month to keep up the program as it is in McDuffie County. But Ms. Dunn said she has a stack of applications that have been filled out and waiting for more sponsors. The Ferst Foundation seeks to provide books to every one of the 1763 children in McDuffie County.

"If we make all these plans at the meeting, that's good. But the reality is, we have to get the money coming end by the end of next month, and each month after that," she said. "This is not just a one time thing."

To make a donation or sponsor a child, call Ms. Dunn at 706-595-3112 or 706-595-7160. Donations may be brought to Ms. Dunn at the Partners For Success office on White Oak Road across the street from the high school, or mailed to Partners For Success at P. O. Box 68, Thomson, Ga. 30824.

Web posted on Thursday, August 14, 2008

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