Guest Column: Reading is a gift that can change the world

Live United by Erin Haag

Erin Haag


At Wind Down Wednesday, we had a community member stop by our booth. Her daughter was with her, and I found something in common with her. We’re both deaf, and we both use sign language to communicate. We had a great conversation getting to know each other.

Did you learn something about me? Yes, you read that right. I’m 70 to 90% deaf. I usually wait until I’ve met someone face to face before I share that fact. Deafness is a wide and varied spectrum. I easily communicate face to face, and on the phone, with the help of my hearing aids. Many people will pick up on my “accent,” but not fully realize until it’s brought up in conversation.

I wait until I meet someone face to face because typically it means they’re a little less worried about it. People worry about how to communicate. They slow down, they raise their voice, they’re so overenthusiastic in making sure that they’re communicating well, they don’t realize that it makes it harder. So do me a favor. When you meet me, act normal. I promise it’ll be OK.

I decided to go ahead and share this about me for my Wind Down Wednesday friend. For anyone in the community who might want to lend their voice to the conversation in sign language — I’m here. I’d love to hear what you have to say, so stop on by. 

In high school, I received a set of digital hearing aids, which dramatically increased the amount of hearing I had. I heard rain for the first time. I drove my parents crazy going from room to room in our house, asking what that noise was until my father figured it out. I went to a costume shop at our local theater and asked them to show me a taffeta dress, because I loved Laura Ingalls Wilder, and she had written about “the swish of her taffeta skirts,” and I wanted to know what that sounded like.

Little sounds, big barriers. Look around. I challenge you to ask what other barriers in our community do we have? Language, access to child care, transportation, access to education. The list is wide and varied, and sometimes it’s as simple as the gift of books.

I knew about the sound of taffeta skirts from my books. Books were a given in my house growing up, and my exposure to language was enriched daily. However, until the moment that I heard rain for the first time, I never realized that I didn’t know what rain sounded like. Sometimes, you don’t know what you don’t know.

United Way of Freeborn County is a proud sponsor of the Dolly Parton Imagination Library. Through Imagination Library, any child in Freeborn County can have a book mailed to them each month until they are 5 years old.

If a family has access to books at home, and is reading, children are more likely to enter kindergarten having heard 1.4 million more words than children who have not.

A million more words. I like to think of this as having a million times the impact. Because reading is more than just the words. It’s the relationship building with the caregivers. It’s the introduction to new concepts. It’s the random knowledge that you can pull out when you least expect it, such as informing my children that butterflies taste with their feet. Or that taffeta has a sound, and so does rain. I’m not sure my children believe me about the butterflies.

Free books. A million more words. Enriched relationships. Kindergarten readiness. What’s the catch? The catch is that United Way of Freeborn County must provide shipping costs. Thirty dollars a year provides shipping for a child. If you’re interested in having your donation designated to Imagination Library, or sponsoring a child, give our office a call. Or stop by Dine United on Sept. 28 to see our information booth and donate. It’s truly a gift that can change the world.

Erin Haag is the executive director of the United Way of Freeborn County.