Meet the Ferst Readers Team Expanding Early Literacy in McIntosh County
March 2022 Issue
By Jean Wilsterman
Photography by Bob Claxton
What is Ferst Readers?
Ferst Readers is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization that mails monthly, free, age-specific books to children from birth to five years of age. Ferst Readers’ mission is strengthening communities by providing quality books and literacy resources for children and their families to use at home during the earliest stages of development. We want every child to have the best start in life, and nothing helps a baby’s brain develop more than exposure to rich language and loving interactions. The key is having books in the home and being read to right from birth. Our vision is to create better learners, brighter futures and stronger communities by giving every child under five access to quality books in their homes.
A small team of local ladies, Barbara Young, Jackie Mull, Lynn Lobit, Natale Adorni and I have started a Community Action Team (CAT) in McIntosh County. We are a dedicated local volunteer CAT, which is the driving force behind local implementation, including registration, awareness, fundraising and literacy efforts. There are CAT groups in almost every county in Georgia (including Glynn County) and eight other states.
Where did the name come from?
It came from the founder, Robin Ferst Marhaver. While listening to a local Madison, Georgia, plant executive discuss the difficulty finding employees who could read at the required level for hiring, Robin Ferst was inspired to start Ferst Readers. It was founded in 1999 to address the growing problem of children, many from low-income communities, entering kindergarten without basic early literacy skills and school readiness. The blueprint for early school success is simple: Start school with strong literacy skills. Ferst Readers’ design for encouraging early literacy development is even simpler. Ensure children have developmentally appropriate books in their home and provide parents with resources that support them in their role as their child’s first teachers.
Is there any cost to the families?
No, the program is free to the parents and guardians of all children between birth and five years old in participating counties. It is open to all children under five years of age no matter the level of household income.
Why does the program start at birth?
Ferst Readers starts at birth because research shows 85 percent of a child’s brain is developed by the age of three, so it is important to be exposed to vocabulary and language through talking, singing, playing and reading. The single most significant factor influencing a child’s early educational success is an introduction to books and being read to in the home.
Why does it end at age five?
At age five, most children start kindergarten and are being taught and read to at school. Ferst Readers helps build readiness skills, ensuring children enter school ready to learn.
What resources do you offer beyond the monthly books?
We do not just mail a book to a child every month. We also include with every mailing a parent component, the Leap Into Books newsletter. It provides book-specific critical questions, relevant vocabulary and fun family activities to extend the story beyond the book. This is the key to a child’s success in school. The more words they hear and speak before they enter school, the more prepared they will be.
The single biggest predictor of high academic achievement is reading to children. Not flash cards, not workbooks, not fancy preschools, not blinking toys or computers, but having someone take time every day (or night) to sit and read with a child.
Top Picture: Mother Reegan Odom and her daughter Scotlyn Odom. Ferst Readers program recipients.
Middle Picture, Left to Right: Natale Adorni, Lynn Lobit, Jean Wilsterman and Barbara Young.
Bottom Pictures: Two Books from this month's program
How do I register my child?
We are actively registering new children under five years of age. You will find Ferst Readers literature and applications at Head Start, the Chamber of Commerce (in Darien), the McIntosh Health Department, Ida Hilton Public Library (in Darien), and many other locations throughout the county. You will see members of the CAT at community events with clip boards in hand signing up children, or you can visit our website at FerstReaders.org.
How can I help?
The McIntosh Community Action Team is actively seeking personal donations and corporate sponsors. For only $36 a year, you can sponsor one child, who will receive a book every month for one year. Give from your heart, sponsor one, two, three or as many children as you like. Simply send a check to Ferst Readers Foundation, P.O. Box 187, Townsend, GA, 31331, or donate online at ferstreaders.org and select McIntosh from the dropdown menu. All funds raised in McIntosh County stay in McIntosh County. All donations are tax deductible.
What’s next for Ferst Readers of McIntosh?
Our goal is to sign up every eligible child and to raise enough funding so that all children under five years of age in McIntosh County can receive a free book every month.
This program is important because there are approximately 500 children under the age of five in McIntosh County, many of them being raised in households under the poverty level, by grandparents, great-grandparents, foster parents or single parents. When parents are worried about providing basic needs, like shelter and food, books are not at the top of their lists to purchase. Research shows,
61 percent of low-income households do not have an age-appropriate book in the home.