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United Way launches reading initiative

With the goal of increasing kindergarten readiness through expanding the number of books being read to small children, United Way of North Central Massachusetts and its partners have launched Reading First, a literacy coalition, which will provide free books to Fitchburg and Leominster children.  
Families from the Twin Cities with children from birth to age 5, can sign up to have one book per month mailed to their home their child, regardless of household income.
“What is great about this program is that it aligns with United Way’s focus on youth development and has proven results that improve children’s school readiness,” said Kathy Heintz, director of community investment for United Way of North Central Massachusetts.
According to Heintz, the reason for launching the program was research that showed that in the average middle income home, there are 13 age-appropriate books per child, on average — versus one book per 300 children in low-income homes.
Reading First will use the Dolly Parton Imagination Library to distribute by mail a brand new, age-appropriate book to enrolled children every month until five years of age, creating a home library of up to 60 books. Some of the popular titles include “The Little Engine That Could” and “Green Eggs and Ham”.
Families can sign up for the program by completing a registration form, which can be found at Children’s Aid and Family Services, Montachusett Community Branch YMCA, Boys and Girls Club, Spanish American Center, Cleghorn Neighborhood Center, Montachusett Opportunity Council and at the United Way of North Central Massachusetts or sign-up online at United Way’s website,
The initiative is being sponsored by United Way of North Central Massachusetts and several local businesses, including IC Federal Credit Union, Simonds International, Bemis Associates, Fitchburg State University and HYPE, the young professionals group at the North Central Massachusetts Chamber of Commerce.
United Way anticipates that over 1,000 of the eligible 5,100 pre-K school children in Fitchburg and Leominster will   sign up for the books by the end of the first year. Heintz said United Way would expand the program to other communities as sponsors are secured.
A recent study done for the Dolly Parton Imagination Library showed that children who participated in the reading program scored 15 percent higher in kindergarten literacy scores than their peers.
The initiative was unveiled at Children’s Aid and Family Services on John Fitch Hwy, Fitchburg.