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New group advocates child literacy
Ferst Foundation to provide books for area youngsters
Ferst Foundation Logo

For more information
To learn more about the Ferst Foundation or the Bulloch County Community Action Team, or to donate, visit www.ferstfoundation.org, email Michelle Reidel at mreidel@georgiasouthern.edu, or call Whitlock at Bulloch Pediatrics at (912) 871-4847.  The group can also be found on Facebook and Twitter.
If making a donation online, individuals can allocate funds specifically for Bulloch County.

A Bulloch County volunteer group is raising money to prepare youngsters for a lifetime of reading success. 
Through a partnership with Georgia’s Ferst Foundation for Childhood Literacy, a community action team formed earlier this year plans to donate books to children at the outset of their education.
The Ferst Foundation is a nonprofit organization currently operating in more than 70 Georgia counties. Its mission is to provide books for local communities, “to prepare all Georgia preschool children for reading and learning success.”
Local volunteers, dubbed the Bulloch County Ferst Foundation Community Action Team, hope to begin a program here that would provide enrolled children with one book, along with reading guides and activity pages, each and every month through their 5th birthdays, according to Michelle Reidel, a Community Action Team member.
“The focus is on early literacy, as the more limited a young child's access is to experiences with literacy and language, the more likely that he or she will have difficulty learning to read,” Reidel said. “The most important and effective intervention to this problem is to provide developmentally appropriate reading materials for all children.”
Statistics show that 71 percent of Georgia’s fourth-grade children read below grade level, resulting in remedial costs of $169 million to the state, she said; and 85 percent of all juvenile offenders have reading problems.
Before the group can enroll children and begin gifting books, though, volunteers must collect community donations to make their goal possible.
The cost of the program for each registered child is $28 per year — it would cost $140 to sponsor a child from birth to age 5.
“We are still in our infancy and need to raise sufficient funds in order to enroll our first class of participants,” said Dr. Austin Whitlock, a local pediatrician and Community Action Team member. “There will never be any costs for the people who are enrolled. We have had a lot of people graciously donate money so far, and we have garnered a tremendous amount of support. We will continue to need generous donations.”
According to Whitlock, the foundation is about halfway to its minimum $3,000 goal, which would allow for a first class of about 30 students.
“Our initial plan is to focus on enrolling children from low-income families in Bulloch County, and we are working with the local Head Start program to begin this effort,” Reidel said.
Eventually, volunteers would like to see the program expand to include most of the 4,000-plus Bulloch County children who are younger than 5, Whitlock said.
“A third of children who enter school aren’t as prepared for reading and language as they should be. So, we would like to make the program available, eventually, to everyone in our community,” he said. “These programs are very effective; they are programs that have demonstrated success. We are really optimistic that this will be something that will have positive and tangible effect on literacy rates, school preparedness and graduation rates in our community.”
As a way to reach out to the community, the Bulloch County Ferst Foundation Community Action Team is conducting informational presentations to local service organizations during group meetings, and will host an information table at the Statesboro Mainstreet Farmers Market on Saturday.
The group will also host a table this week at First Friday.
As part of its fundraising efforts, the team is conducting a raffle that will conclude Thursday, May 9. Raffle tickets will be sold at First Friday and by individual members of the action team. Prizes include gift certificates to local restaurants, Georgia Southern University baseball tickets and a football signed by all of the Georgia Southern football coaches.

Jeff Harrison may be reached at (912) 489-9454.

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