Dr. Mary Ann Abrams, a health management consultant with Iowa Health System, serves as the coalition leader of Reach Out and Read – Iowa. Photo by Duane Tinkey
Dr. Mary Ann Abrams, a health management consultant with Iowa Health System, serves as the coalition leader of Reach Out and Read – Iowa. Photo by Duane Tinkey
Reading aloud to children beginning at an early age is vital to developing their language and literacy skills. Through Reach Out and Read - Iowa (ROR-Iowa), thousands of Iowa children receive a free book each time their parents bring them to the doctor for a well-child visit.

ROR-Iowa trains medical providers to integrate literacy into well-child visits by giving new age- and culturally appropriate books to children between the ages of 6 months and 5 years, and counseling parents about the importance of sharing books together and reading aloud. The organization began operating in Iowa four years ago, and currently serves approximately 51,000 children. Each year ROR-Iowa gives away about 72,000 books. "We are proud of our growth," said Dr. Mary Ann Abrams, coalition leader and medical director for ROR-Iowa. When the Iowa coalition began, there were only about 15 independent Reach Out and Read groups operating in the state.

ROR-Iowa's biggest cost is buying books, but through bulk purchasing it's able to keep the average cost per book below $3, Abrams said. "It has an excellent return on investment; it lays the groundwork even before they get to preschool," she said.

The coalition receives funding from the national organization, but is also responsible for raising funds locally. The Wellmark Foundation recently announced a two-year, $23,511 grant to the Iowa chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, which will enable ROR-Iowa to expand to all nine of the state's family medicine residency programs, including those at Iowa Lutheran Hospital and Broadlawns Medical Center. Mercy Medical Center - Des Moines' family medicine residency program has participated in Reach Out and Read for the past 10 years.

The coalition also needs volunteers to demonstrate reading aloud for parents and people to host used book drives or adopt clinics.

On March 2, ROR-Iowa will hold its Second Annual Green Eggs and Ham Benefit Breakfast for Books. For tickets, call Molly Olinger Topf at 991-0872 or e-mail her at mollyroriowa@gmail.com.