Madison-based Ferst Foundation achieves huge milestone

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Alicia Ortiz is pictured with many books that have been funded by Ferst Foundation. Photo Special

Alicia Ortiz is pictured with many books that have been funded by Ferst Foundation. Photo Special

Special to the Citizen:

Local nonprofit organization Ferst Foundation for Childhood Literacy achieved an important milestone by mailing its four millionth book in October. For Ferst Foundation for Childhood Literacy 2014 is a banner year when it comes to making a difference in the lives of children across the state through increased literacy.

After all, this month, the organization will mail its 4 millionth book! “We are encouraged by what we do – every day – and current research supports our efforts,” says Betsy Wagenhauser, the foundation’s president.

“No other factor plays a more significant role in a child’s early educational success than books in the home and being read to from birth. None.” Ferst Foundation for Childhood Literacy is a nonprofit that provides quality, developmentally-appropriate books each month to children from birth until kindergarten.

The program increases community engagement and support for childhood literacy, and prepares children to enter school ready to succeed. The foundation began mailing books in April 2000 in Morgan County and currently has almost 30,000 children enrolled in its program.

And if mailing its four millionth book was not enough to make October a stand-out month, Ferst Foundation just received a matching gift of $30,000 from one of its generous benefactors. “We are so grateful for this contribution.

From now until the end of the year, all donations will effectively be doubled, up to $30,000. That’s real impact,” declares Wagenhauser. Georgia has more than 680,000 children under five, with half living close to or below the poverty level. And it is this group that is hardest hit when it comes to entering school prepared to learn.

• Half of children from low-income communities start first grade up to two years behind their peers.

• Children not reading on grade level by third grade are four times more likely to leave high school without a diploma.

Match these statistics with the fact that the single most significant factor influencing a child’s early educational success is an introduction to books and being read to at home prior to beginning school and that 61 percent of low-income families don’t have a single book in the home suitable for a child, and you have a dire problem on your hands.

However, there is hope in the form of the Ferst Foundation and its supporters.

Community Action Teams, or CATs, comprised of dedicated volunteers, are responsible for registering children in the program, raising the $36 per child/year needed for each child who participates, and promoting literacy through partnerships with other local organizations.

To learn more about how you can support childhood literacy, enroll a child for free books or adopt a reader, visit www.ferstfoundation.org

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