Lo­cal pro­gram helps de­velop young minds

Reach Out and Read en­sures chil­dren get book at doc­tor vis­its

Yuma Sun - - FRONT PAGE - BY AMY CRAW­FORD SUN STAFF WRITER

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

PHOTO BY AMY CRAW­FORD /YUMA SUN

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.

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