BookStart program celebrates its 14th year

Published 9:58 am Monday, June 27, 2016

Representatives from early childhood organizations gathered at the office of the Southern Minnesota Initiative Foundation in Owatonna recently to celebrate 14 years of the BookStart program and 26 new BookStart awardees.

According to a press release, SMIF awarded 10,000 books with a total value of $172,650 in partnership with Capstone, a leading publisher of children’s books and digital products and services. Together, the organizations have placed approximately 89,000 books into the homes of children across southern Minnesota. The goal is that every child has a book of his or her own at home to read or be read to by family members, which promotes a lifelong love for reading.

Studies consistently show that reading at a young age drastically improves a child’s educational trajectory. Not only does reading aloud help children acquire early language skills, it fosters curiosity and memory and helps children develop positive associations with reading.

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“Reading should be fun, accessible and engaging, for both children and their caregivers. Capstone has been a great long-time partner with our BookStart program towards this goal,” SMIF’s President and CEO  Tim Penny said. “We believe investing in our young children is a long-term strategy that will pay big dividends for our communities and businesses.”

“Awardees find so many creative ways of getting these free books in the hands of kids,” said Teri Steckelberg, SMIF’s early childhood director. “Some projects give children books when they get free meals at the summer lunch wagon. Others give books to adult basic education students who are just learning English so they can read to their child, often for the first time.”

According to a press release, organizations received BookStart grants because they provide outstanding early literacy opportunities for young children and their families. The organizations will incorporate the books into their programs and events where young children will receive books to take home and keep.

Albert Lea Area Schools, Freeborn County Public Health and Wells Public Library were among those to receive books.

“Literacy is one of the building blocks of lifelong success,” Bill Coughlan of Coughlan Companies, the parent company of Capstone in Mankato, said. “Capstone recognizes the power of literacy in helping children achieve their full potential, and we know that can start with just one book. Every child is a reader when matched with the right book.”

As part of its strategy to invest in economic growth here in southern Minnesota, SMIF has supported early childhood efforts to make certain all children enter school fully encouraged, prepared, and supported for learning success. Over the past ten years, SMIF has invested $1.6 million annually for early childhood development initiatives. SMIF has also established 23 community coalitions as part of the Minnesota Early Childhood Initiative. Each coalition is developing their collective early childhood vision and implementing local projects to strengthen early care and education for young children and their families.