Targeting 50,000 underserved youth in Philadelphia, the Eagles Youth Partnership is a nonprofit primarily focused on health and education, with an Eye Mobile, for vision care, and a bookmobile that travel the city.
Executive director Sarah Martinez-Helfman said her organization became a part of the READ! by 4th campaign because of a common interest in early literacy and concern for the “summer slide.”
“If you can’t read, you are cut off from many options,” Martinez-Helfman said. “Literacy is key.”
Because of the Eagles’ ties, Martinez-Helfman said the organization is positioned to promote reading as cool and fun and reach a wider audience, especially children who look up to the athletes.
Eagles cornerback Brandon Boykin, citing how reading affected his own life, recently became the spokesperson, with the motto “Do the 22,” asking children to read for 22 minutes every day.
EYP sent posters to schools and other organizational participants, reaching between 30,000 and 40,000 kids, and gave $30,000 to the Free Library to support its role as the campaign’s coordinator.
“This is just the beginning of our commitment, though,” said Martinez-Helfman. “When we have the opportunity to partner citywide on city literacy, it’s in our DNA, it makes sense.”
Primarily focused on family engagement and year-round reading, they are now collecting before-and-after reading levels for the summer bookmobile program to measure effectiveness, Martinez-Helfman said.
The Eye Mobile, a staple of their program since 1996, visits a different school each day, providing eye exams for children and glasses and specialized care for those in need.
“If we want children to be able to read their books or the chalkboard, we need to first ensure that they can see clearly,” Martinez-Helfman said. “One of five students in the Philadelphia School District cannot see clearly without the help of eyeglasses. Imagine how our literacy rates would increase if these children got the care they need!”
Reach Out and Read
This program emphasizes children in the first three years of life. Coordinator Kirsten Rogers says it has been an active member of the READ! by 4th campaign, also donating gently used books to school-age children.
The emphasis on the first three years of life is crucial, as children’s brains double in size during that time, and the building blocks for cognitive development are formed.
The area branches of the program, run by Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, are in 47 primary care health centers, mostly in Philadelphia but also in Chester, Norristown and Pottstown.
Each practice raises funds to buy developmentally appropriate new books for children age 6 months through 5 years.
“It starts in the exam room,” Rogers says. The physician or nurse practitioner always goes into the exam room with a book.
Physicians talk to parents about the importance of reading, even about speaking to the child in utero. “Sing, read, talk to your baby,” she says.
“It fits into what pediatricians are doing,” she says. “It’s about the whole child.” Doctors pass on tips on reading to the parents on every well visit, and if they find the parents themselves face reading challenges, they direct them to appropriate programs.
Since the Boston-based program was implemented in 1989, she says, 15 peer-reviewed studies have shown that participating children are usually ahead of their peers in language development.
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