Local program helps develop young minds
Reach Out and Read ensures children get book at doctor visits
Putting a book into the hands of a child as early as possible can help them succeed in life, early child experts say.
But with Yuma County’s child poverty rate hovering around 33 percent, “many children in our region may not get a book” until they enter kindergarten, said Rudy Ortiz, regional director of Yuma’s division of the Arizona First Things First program.
That’s why the Reach Out and Read program in Yuma County has been helping local pediatricians and family doctors hand out books to their young patients since 2009, said the program’s coordinator, Irene Garza, at a tour of two ROR sites in Yuma on Friday afternoon.
Pediatricians and family doctors give advice to parents on reading aloud to their children and give every child an ageappropriate book to take home, Garza said.
“Children who are served by Reach Out and Read program enter kindergarten better prepared to succeed with larger vocabularies,” Garza said.
Exposing children to language as soon as possible after birth — whether it is written, spoken or sung — starts building sensory skills through hearing, Ortiz said.
The brain makes more than 1 million neuro connections per second in the first five years of life, Ortiz said, that is why reading, singing, story-telling and other like activities help babies and toddlers learn vital skills.
“You need the sensory skills before you can build the language skills. This is how the brain actually works,” he said.
Pediatricians and family physicians are uniquely positioned to help bridge the literacy gap, Ortiz and Garza said, as they are heavily involved with the care of their patients and their families.
Brain development is an integral part of that care, said Dr. Saad Al-Alou, who participates in the Reach Out and Read program.
Dr. Sonal Subbu, who started giving out books on her own back in 2005 when she and her husband moved to Yuma County, has been a champion of the Reach Out and Read program since 2011, when she started participating in the program.
“I am what I am because of my education,” said the India-born physician, who studied at the University of Minnesota. “I’m the example of what good books can do for us.”
Yuma County has 17 Reach Out and Read sites, including doctors in Wellton, Somerton and San Luis, Garza said, but they need books — last year, the program served 9,598 children annually, giving out 8,612 books, some of which doctors and health workers paid for themselves.
Subbu and Al-Alou give out books at well-child visits, when children are involved in the exchange. Well-child visits are also good times to talk to parents about the importance of early literacy skills and how they are linked to development.
Qualifying medical professionals in Yuma County who are interested in the Reach Out and Read program can contact Garza at (928) 446-8189.
“I am what I am because of my education. I’m the example of what good books can do for us.” — Dr. Sonal Subbu, a champion of the Reach Out and Read program since 2011
DR. SONAL SUBBU TALKS ABOUT THE REACH OUT AND READ program Friday afternoon at the clinic she runs with her husband, Mahesh Subbu. The Subbus have been participating in the Reach Out and Read Program since 2011.