January 21, 2005

Grant from Channel 5 boosts literacy program

Featured Image

Pat Pennington, right, reads to her great-granddaughter, 4-month-old Summer Martin, as her twin sister Autumn is read a book by Pam Kelley, their great aunt. The twins received books as part of the Reach Out and Read program during their well-baby exams at the Primary Care Clinic.
photo by Dana Johnson

Grant from Channel 5 boosts literacy program

Thanks to a $250,000 grant from WTVF-NewsChannel 5, a reading program based at the Monroe Carell Jr. Children's Hospital at Vanderbilt will be able to put more books into the hands of toddlers, infants and preschoolers in Middle Tennessee.

The “Jo's Reach Out and Read” program is named for Joannah Swan, the daughter of Rebecca Swan, M.D., professor of Pediatrics at the Children's Hospital. Jo died from SIDS when she was 14 months old in 1999.

“She loved books more than she loved her toys,” said Swan. “And one of my colleagues, Greg Plemmons, was interested in starting a Reach Out and Read program. We felt it was a fitting memorial to Jo to name it for her, and the program began in 2000.”

But this year, the grant from NewsChannel 5, and matching funds from the Children's Hospital that accompany it, will help sustain the program and allow it to expand further into the community through community pediatricians' offices. The program will also soon partner with Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen's literacy initiative, Books From Birth.

“Literacy is such a huge factor to people's success in life,” said NewsChannel 5 General Manager Debbie Turner. “And as a media company, we want a well-educated and informed population. This program can help.”

In the program, pediatricians at the Vanderbilt Pediatric Clinics hand out age-appropriate books to children at their checkups while reinforcing to parents the benefits of reading to their children.

“Jo's Reach Out and Read has provided books to thousands of children seen in the Pediatric Primary Care Clinic over the last several years,” said Jim Shmerling, chief executive officer of the Children's Hospital. “Reading to children has been demonstrated as one of the most effective developmental tools available. This grant enhances our ability to contribute to our children's healthy development.”

NewsChannel 5 has had a strong relationship with Vanderbilt Children's Hospital over the years. Many employees have served on the hospital board, as Turner does now, and for decades the television station has supported the hospital through the Children's Miracle Network Telethon. Turner said it was NewsChannel 5's hope that this matching grant would, in essence, set up an endowment so the reading program can continue and even expand.

“It's rare we give out $250,000,” explained Turner. “Most grants are $5,000 to $10,000. This is definitely special; we began talking about this the summer of 2003. We like to fund literary-based projects and Jo's Reach Out and Read program was perfect.”