In 1989, two doctors at Boston City Hospital decided to bring in their old children’s books for their waiting room. It was from that simple gesture that Reach Out and Read was born. The concept was to encourage reading in a clinical setting utilizing physicians who are trained in early literacy development for children. Through the program, each pediatric patient receives a new or gently used book every time they visit their family doctor. Since that time, Reach Out and Read has been implemented in nearly 5,000 clinics in all 50 states.
In 2003, two residents of St. Vincent’s Family Medicine and Residency Center (FMRC) recognized the value of early literacy and wanted to make an impact on the children that are patients of St. Vincent’s FMRC and their parents. The population served at St. Vincent’s FMRC is more than 80% Medicaid, often living in poverty, underserved, and lacking the resources for a reasonable quality of life. So for some children, these are the only books they own. Reach Out and Read was adopted by the physicians and has been improving young lives ever since.
The physicians, residents, faculty, and staff of St. Vincent’s FMRC have encouraged passionate engagement with reading by distributing more than 15,000 age and language appropriate books to disadvantaged children. More than that, the physicians actually teach pre-reading skills to the parents who are often non-readers themselves. They “prescribe” activities on prescription pads that encourage reading, and refer adults to mentors or others who can assist them to fulfill the doctor’s prescription. They have also transformed their clinic waiting area into a literacy rich environment complete with volunteers who read books to children, and the opportunity for new or gently used books to be taken home. For some children, this is the only book they own.