Early literacy program running short of cash

SOUTHSIDE PRESCHOOLERS Levi Bunion, Brayden Meissner and Jovian Jones enjoy the Ferst Foundation book, “The Little Engine That Could.” All three boys are currently enrolled in Grady County’s Ferst Foundation for Childhood Literacy book-a-month program.

An early childhood literacy intervention program providing free books for children five and under in Grady County is struggling to stay afloat financially.
Grady County Ferst Foundation for Childhood Literacy coordinator Martha Fowler reported this week the book program is $800 in the red – a direct result of cutbacks by local businesses and grants that have sustained the program over the past five years.  
“Every major grant that I’ve been getting has cut back from between 25 and 50 percent of what they have been giving,” Fowler says. The program is currently reaching nearly 66 percent of the 1,600 children in Grady County who are eligible to receive books, according to Fowler.
She is currently in correspondence with Ferst Foundation headquarters and is hopeful that the foundation can sustain the program for a few more months until money can be raised to continue on a local basis. In an attempt to address the cutbacks, Fowler has suspended new membership in the program and has removed from the membership ranks those who have moved out of county.
“We were right at the 70 percent (membership mark) of kids in Grady county that we were sending books to, and the foundation doesn’t want to see us cut back,” she says. “As soon as we get funding back to where it needs to be, we’ll open registration back up.”
In August, Grady County’s Ferst Foundation, which operates under the authority of the Grady County Literacy Committee, mailed books to 1,053 children five and under. Fowler contends that parent and teacher surveys reveal the program is working. According to a recent parent survey, 98 percent of the parents whose children are receiving books report reading to their child on a regular basis.
“As a former kindergarten and first grade teacher, I have observed the difference in language skills, attention span and general knowledge of children who were read to on a regular basis before entering school,” said Southside Principal Cheryl Harrison in a letter to Fowler supporting the program. “Children who are read to are happier and more successful in school. Having age-appropriate books in the home increases the likelihood that children will be read to nightly.”
Fowler says the literacy committee has focused on early literacy because of its effect on the community, noting school success, graduation rates, employment, and the overall economic impact of an early childhood literacy program is huge. Regarding the economic impact of a literate community, she states, “For every dollar you invest in literacy, it’s like a 20-fold return in this community economically. If you have literate kids who finish high school, they are either going to go to college, to technical school, or they can get a job.”
She adds, “If they’re not literate – it can be the end of the road.”
Fowler noted that Grady County pre-k teachers have noticed a major difference in readiness in those students who have been enrolled in the program for several years, as opposed to those who have not. “It gets them interested in books. It also helps with early writing skills,” says a Grady County pre-k teacher in a recent survey. “It also helps a child’s listening skills.”
What would it take for the program to regain financial stability? Fowler says that $36 dollars yearly from a thousand people along with the fundraisers and grants she is still receiving would put “the program on very sound footing.”
Anyone interested in contributing to the Ferst Foundation can contact Martha Fowler at 229-377-3701.  

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