Approximately 200 local children received a brand new book in the mail last week as the Ferst Foundation kicked off in McDuffie County. The Ferst Foundation seeks to provide age appropriate books monthly to every child under the age of five across the state of Georgia, one county at a time.
Coordinated locally by Partners For Success, Putting Children Ferst in McDuffie County has already garnered support from the Thomson Rotary Club, Leadership McDuffie, the Thomson Kiwanis Club and several other local organizations.
"It might not seem like it's that big of a deal, but it is," said Barbara Greene, whose grandson, Jamari, just received his first book. "Because so many families don't get this opportunity. I think it's a good idea."
A Community Action Team - comprised of Gaye Vaughn, Thomson-McDuffie County IT Director Kelly Evans, local Realtor Dot Knox, McDuffie Mirror Publisher Jason Smith and Karen Griffith and Beverly Dunn of Partners for Success - is responsible for finding and registering the children and raising the money to sustain the program at $35 per child per year.
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.
"I hope to have a whole new generation of readers," Mrs. Howser said during a visit to McDuffie County last week.
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. Low literate workers cost Georgia businesses $7 billion a year.
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. Ms. Greene said it is difficult to pack up a baby, go to the library and make them sit still.
"This way, we have our own (books)," she said. "And that'll start him to learning early."
Already active in 49 Georgia counties, the Ferst Foundation's goal is to have free books in the home of every preschool child across the state by 2010.
"There are lots of ways to skin a cat. And this is a new way," said Epp Wilson, who was the first donor in McDuffie County. "It's going to reach some that the other programs have missed."
Children registered in the program receive a book every month through the mail. A committee at the Dollywood Foundation made up of education and child development experts selected the books. 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 - a new experience for many.
"Really for right now, he just likes to feel it," Ms. Greene said. "It's a colorful, hardback book, and he likes to try to feel the train on it. He's not sitting still enough to read the whole book, but we've read a couple of pages and the idea is to just get him interested."
Partners For Success on White Oak Road in Thomson is the local registrar for the program. Mrs. Howser said she is pleased with the great response from the local civic clubs who have spurred McDuffie County "ahead of schedule" in getting the books out.
Mrs. Griffith, the executive director of Partners For Success, said $52,000 per year is needed to supply books to the 1763 children in McDuffie County. To date, Mrs. Griffith said $21,000 has been raised. Anyone interested in sponsoring or registering a child may call Ms. Dunn at PFS at 706-595-7160. For more information on the Ferst Foundation, visit www.ferstfoundation.org.