The Kokomo-Howard County Public Library has joined forces with the Friends of the Library, Center for Early Childhood Education at Indiana University Kokomo, St.Joseph Hospital, and the Kokomo High School Girls’ League to provide a bag of books to the parents of every baby born at the hospital.

The joint effort is called the Read to Me program. “The Kokomo-Howard County Public Library isn’t just a building full of books and other resources for patrons,” said Peg Harmon, interim director. “Our librarians strive to promote early literacy in the community. Study after study shows that the earlier you read to a baby and the more you read to a baby, the more successful that child will be in school and in life. That’s why we’ve offered Story Times, and other programs targeted specifically to enhance early literacy, for years. Our children’s librarians help parents find the right books for their babies, and we’re here for the parents to help select age-appropriate books as their children grow. We wanted to reach even younger children, before preschool age when parents normally turn to the library, so we created the Read to Me program.”

The library turned to Marilyn Skinner, director of the Center for Early Childhood Education at IU Kokomo, to see if she’d like to be a part of the program. She answered with an enthusiastic, “Yes!”

“I loved the idea,” Skinner said. “I think the Read to Me program is very important. The earlier you start reading to a child, the better. In fact, I encourage mothers to read to their babies while they’re still in the womb. In ways we still don’t understand fully, reading to a baby helps its brain develop. Through Lilly grant funding and some generosity in pricing from Books-a-Million, the Center for Early Childhood Education at IU Kokomo purchased thousands of books for this program. But I tell parents to read anything and everything to their children. If you’re looking at a grocery store ad, point to the celery. Point to the price. Let a child see you reading left to right. Show children the words around them. Every little bit makes a big difference.”

The library turned to the Friends of the Library for some funding to purchase quality tote bags for the books. Then the library turned to St.Joseph Hospital and asked if a bag of books and some information about the importance of early literacy could be given to the parents of every newborn at the hospital. St.Joseph Hospital said yes, too.

“St.Joseph Hospital is delighted to participate in the Read to Me program,” said Sandra Herman, director of marketing at the hospital. “We offer many programs designed to support parents in raising healthy, happy children. The Read to Me program is a great addition and one that will help both parents and children.”

That’s when the Kokomo-Howard County Public Library found out that for 15 years the Kokomo High School Girls’ League has delivered books to both local hospitals as a service project. KHCPL asked if the KHS Girls’ League would like to be a partner in Read to Me at St.Joseph Hospital and received yet another, “Yes!”

“The KHS Girls’ League Council sells suckers at home football games and cookies during lunches to raise money to buy the books,” said sponsor Kristin Goralski. “The goal of our group of eight girls from each class, ninth through 12th, is to provide a book to every child born in Howard County and information on the importance of early literacy to parents.”

With the cooperation of all five organizations, each parent of a baby born at St.Joseph Hospital will now receive three books, instead of one, and a tote that’s the perfect size to fill with books from the library for years to come.

“One of the Kokomo-Howard County Public Library’s goals is to partner with businesses and organizations so we can better serve the community,” Harmon said. “Read to Me is a perfect example of what can be done when we all work together.”