Charity Angels...Celebrating Those Who Give of Themselves
“Many people do not realize that by the age of three a child understands about 70 percent of the conversational vocabulary they will use in their entire lifetime. By talking, singing and reading to their children in the early years, parents are giving a gift of great importance.”
The wonderful people at Born To Read—a grass-roots organization that visits mothers of newborns in local area hospitals and brings them books—are truly a hidden treasure. As I talked with Executive Director Terri Sassmann in Beaufort, she opened my eyes to what committed and dedicated people are trying to achieve for moms and newborns. I became totally caught up in this fascinating story and I hope you do too.
PINK: Terri, how did Born To Read get its start and how has it grown?
Terri: Born To Read began in 1987 when Nora Kresch and a group of women started sending books and information home with new moms at Beaufort Hospital. In 2007 we gained non-profit status with the help of the United Way. We now have volunteers at Hilton Head, Coastal Carolina, and Beaufort Memorial Hospitals, seeing new parents the day after their baby is born. We also partner with The Storks Nest and meet with pregnant moms to talk about reading to their babies even before they are born. We give them books on each visit to help begin a home library and give the parents good books to read to their babies once they arrive.
As executive director, I work with our board of directors, oversee programs and finances, write grants, recruit and train volunteers, oversee the budget, community relations and outreach. I also design new programs and create partnerships with other community organizations.
PINK: I know you give out resource bags to new moms. What is in a resource bag?
Terri: Our bags contain two books, a community resource book, a baby T-shirt, a bib, information on the importance of reading, our first newsletter and information on other local community resources. We want to be sure new moms don’t feel lost, alone or isolated as they stay home with their infant. We not only provide contact information, but we continue with quarterly newsletters for up to 15 months. Information is given about available adult education connections and doctor and medical resources, as well.
PINK: Why is it so important to begin early? It seems that a newborn can barely keep their eyes open.
Terri: That is a good question and one we are frequently asked. Listening and talking are like all developmental skills; they build on each other and they begin NOW! When children begin school, those who have been read to regularly have an advantage over those who have had little or no exposure to books and reading. By age four, 50 percent of a child’s intelligence is developed. Yes, we must begin early!
PINK: What are your hopes for the future of the organization?
Terri: We hope to reach every mother who has a baby in one of our hospitals and to empower parents with books and tools to help them teach their children to love reading and to build vocabulary and an understanding of how language is used. That way, when every child gets to school, they are prepared to learn and to begin to read.
PINK: What a mission statement. How can someone reading this article get involved?
Terri: We are always looking for more volunteers to visit our new parents at Hilton Head Hospital and Coastal Carolina. The commitment can be as little as two mornings a month. We also need continued funding to provide the resource bags to each parent in our hospitals. We are always in need of childrens books. We need new books to take to the hospitals, but we also need gently used books for siblings and for some of our other reading programs. As you see, we are all about books and more books!
PINK: You are very dedicated to Born To Read. What is your background and training?
Terri: I moved here from Pittsburgh, PA to be close to my parents, who lived in Bluffton. We had been visiting the area since 1968, so the transition for me was very easy. I met my husband John here in 2009 and we live in Hampton Lake, where we particularly love the beauties of nature and the life style. In Pittsburgh, I worked in education for many years. I was a classroom manager for a non-profit organization that provided assistance for at risk children. When I moved here, I worked with children at the kindergarten level, where I became convinced of the importance of early literacy for children. This job with Born To Read was such a natural fit for me. I am very committed and I feel strongly we are doing great things for the lives of children.
Terri, we think so too. Information is the key that unlocks so much. I urge readers to go to the web site at www.borntoread.org to find out more about this true gift to our community.