GUEST COLUMN: Help your community become more literate in 2017

By PATRICA KRAHNKE, guest columnist

The Brown County Literacy Coalition accomplished much this year. We couldn’t have done it without tremendous support from our volunteer community, donors, tutors and leadership.

Here are a few of our accomplishments:

The BCLC took over managing Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library (DPIL) for Brown County. This program currently mails a free, age-appropriate book each month to 500 Brown County children (80 percent of the county’s children) between the ages of birth to 5. If children aren’t fairly proficient readers by the end of third grade, they are unlikely to graduate high school. In addition, lifelong learning potential suffers, according to the National Research Council.

Our annual DPIL fundraising golf scramble was held this year for the first time at Salt Creek Golf Retreat. Under the expert direction of Jenise Bohbrink, and with the help of Friend-of-Literacy Kady Lane and Salt Creek Director of Sales Jennifer Van Ness, it was a big success and raised money that will help us to continue and grow this important program.

Friend-of-Literacy Linda Todd continued to manage and stock the Little Free Libraries you see at the IGA, in Bean Blossom and Mother’s Cupboard.

BCHS senior Wylie Poling created and launched our first Fantastically Fabulous Family Fall Fling, where we distributed books to children. BCHS students Lizzie Jensen and Ali Drew read stories; Jake Hunter, Jarrod Landry and our Somalian exchange student, Naima Mahamoud, played Giant Jenga with the kids and helped to promote the program throughout the town. Our first annual festival attracted close to 100 people and handed out about 50 books.

Marcia DeBock presented Brown County’s first education summit, which was funded by a generous grant from the Brown County Community Foundation and attended by many members of our educational, social service and business communities. The BCLC Early Childhood Summit of 2016 increased community awareness of early development needs. As part of this grant, over 150 Brown County families received the BCLC DVD, sing-along CD and other tools to promote early childhood development.

Support from Brown County Community Foundation enabled us to sponsor the practicum of Lori Williams of Lori’s Tons of Fun Daycare, who is completing her degree in early childhood education at St. Mary of Woods College. She organized our first participation in the Parade of Lights, where we handed out books to children and offered hot chocolate, cookies and story time with Pastor Phil at the Salvation Army after the parade. She was assisted by board members Barb Young and Lynn Austin, as well as Friends-of-Literacy Bill Mollin, Greg Fox, Lane, Jim Oliver and our float designer, Mark Schmidt, a local artist.

As part of her practicum, Williams created a program to distribute 1,000 children’s books via our local doctors’ offices, the health department, Halloween Trick-or-Treat and books for holiday gifts at St. Vincent DePaul.

Stori Snyder, Brown County Public Library director and BCLC board member, and former BCLC president Bob Gustin organized the annual Brown County Reads program. “Charlotte’s Web” was the book choice for 2016. Michael Sims, author of “The Story of Charlotte’s Web,” joined us in our annual event, partnering with the library to celebrate literacy.

Under the direction of BCLC board Secretary Shari Frank and in partnership with Brown County Schools, our elementary school tutoring program has grown to 17 tutors who spend time each week helping 22 children improve their reading skills. Volunteer tutors meet one-to-one with kids who read below grade level in first, second and third grades. One tutor recently reports her student loves reading and reads as many as six books in one meeting. This student has already gone up a couple reading levels from A to C. Another student was described as “the poster child” for what tutoring can accomplish in one year. An elementary principal said this child was no longer even on the radar for tutoring. Not only is his reading better, but his self-confidence and relationships with adults improved. In fact, all of our tutored students improved in reading.

BCLC Vice President Jonathan Bolte spent many hours at St. Vincent DePaul this year talking with families and ensuring their children are signed up for Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library.

Bolte also put together the new book distribution center you saw if you visited St. Vincent DePaul prior to Christmas. These books will be available throughout the year; many of the books are donated to us by Half Price Books in Bloomington. Bolte also distributes these free books to new families via Clarity Pregnancy Services.

We participated in Mary Kilgore’s (God’s Grace’s) On the Road Again event at the junior high school, talking to parents and ensuring that children are signed up for DPIL.

Former board member and Literacy Coalition historian Rita Simon continued the book basket program, which offers for sale baskets filled with children’s books, candy and toys.

Board member Sara Clifford, editor of the Brown County Democrat, has been instrumental throughout the year in providing the BCLC with space in the newspaper to communicate important early childhood reading development information to the public.

In addition to building on the accomplishments of 2016, what does 2017 hold for the Brown County Literacy Coalition?

In January, we will embark upon a strategic planning journey that will help us to focus, grow and think creatively about ways to support the reading and learning skills of Brown County’s littlest citizens.

We will be developing and expanding our board, including adding a high school student to provide us a youth perspective.

In February, we will co-present with the Brown County Public Library the 2017 Brown County Reads program. The book we have chosen to read as a community is “Positive: A Memoir,” by Paige Rawl. “Positive” is a story about an all-American girl who was born HIV-positive and was bullied in school. She becomes a national youth speaker, starts at a new school and does not allow HIV to define who she is. Rawl has agreed to visit our community in February to speak with students about her experience. Learn more about the book and the author at paigerawl.com, and stay tuned for announcements about 2017 Brown County Reads.

We will work hard to reach 100 percent of Brown County’s children through DPIL. This will help us complement the preschool strategies of the school corporation and help teachers and parents reinforce the reading growth of their students and children.

The success and growth of the tutoring program in 2016 has generated a full commitment from the BCLC to actively seek more tutors to pair with elementary school students who need this support.

We will work to strengthen our partnerships with community stakeholders, including Brown County Schools, parents, business entities and social service agencies.

We wish to thank all of our donors, tutors, volunteers, community supporters, staff members and the leadership team for an outstanding 2016. A big thank you to board members Jenise Bohbrink, Shari Frank, Jonathan Bolte, Lynn Austin, Barbara Young, Stori Snyder, Sara Clifford, Julie Milloy, Julia Rose and Erin Kirchhofer and former board members Bob Gustin, Julie Winn, Rita Simon and Donna Ormiston for their invaluable contributions to our discussions throughout the year.

Interested in becoming involved with our mission as a tutor or a Friend-of-Literacy community volunteer team member? Contact the Brown County Literacy Coalition at 812-988-6960 or browncountyliteracy@gmail.com. Brown County’s children need you!

Patricia Krahnke is president of the Brown County Literacy Coalition Board of Directors.