December 03, 2014

By Sesame Workshop

Early Childhood Literacy – It Takes A Village

By Kimberly Saccaro, IICF Midwest Executive Director     

In 2013, the Insurance Industry Charitable Foundation (IICF) launched a national partnership with Sesame Workshop, the nonprofit organization behind Sesame Street, called Every Day is a Reading and Writing Day  in response to the wide gap in literacy rates between children of high and low income families.  Our primary objective was to create impactful and meaningful experiences for children, caregivers, and IICF volunteers.  What we have learned since our partnership began has been both surprising and inspiring.

Following the successful program launch in 2013, our focus has been engaging the insurance industry and working with our expansive networks to aid in the distribution of the Every Day is a Reading and Writing Day program materials. Industry engagement surged to record numbers during our recent Week of Giving, held across the country in mid-October.

Insurance industry volunteers, community partners, and municipalities came together during our 16th Annual Week of Giving to provide preschool-aged children and their caregivers the opportunity to experience the basic tenets of the Every Day is a Reading and Writing Day program – reading, writing and talking.  In partnership with public libraries in Chicago, Dallas, Los Angeles and New York, over 5,000 children and caregivers took part in Every Day is a Reading and Writing Day activities throughout the week.

I had the opportunity to experience the Every Day is a Reading and Writing Day event first-hand in the Midwest at the Chicago Public Library. The day started with an excited and nervous energy as 200 volunteers from 20 different insurance companies gathered in the grand lobby of the Harold Washington Library in downtown Chicago.  Industry volunteers received assignments as a “Buddy”,  “Reading Station Volunteer”, or one of the other many volunteer roles. Others volunteers headed down to the bus arrival area to greet and escort the children upstairs. Remaining volunteers were teamed up with one of our nonprofit grantees,  Bernie’s Book Bank, to prepare bags of books to be distributed to the children to take home with them after the event.

And then the children arrived.  The broad and welcoming smiles exchanged between our volunteers and the 170 wide-eyed young children was an inspiring scene to witness.  Children linking up with their Buddies, a children’s book author reading her book, and excited little ones shrieking with glee as they spotted Cookie Monster waiting to give them a hug.   It was truly inspiring to see the positive reaction to all involved.

As I walked throughout the library photographing the conversations, drawing, and story-telling, I was struck by how these simple, every day  activities were captivating the attention of not only the children in the room but their grown-up counterparts.  It struck me how happy and engaged so many of the children seemed with an adult giving them their undivided attention during these every day moments.

This concept of “every day moments” having a significant impact on early literacy is something we learned from the knowledgeable research and program teams at Sesame Workshop during our partnership, but to witness it in action was a different story – it was surprising.   Even as a mother of a five-year-old kindergartener, I was still surprised that so much impact could be made with such simple and relatively short activities.  It occurred to me, in witnessing these every day moments between a child and a caring adult that had just met each other that day, early literacy is a group effort.  It is our responsibility as a society, as parents, educators, business people, and corporations, to each do our part to help our youngest and most promising citizens become literate.  Their future, and therefore our future as a society and economy, can be significantly and positively influenced by a collaborative community effort.

I am proud to be a part of an industry that both acknowledges this important social issue and is committed to taking action to bridge the gap in early literacy.  We can do more, together and continue to support organizations like Sesame Workshop fulfill their mission to help all kids grow smarter, stronger and kinder.

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