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Aug. 12

Giving Kids a Novel Reason to Get Excited for Doctors' Visits

Today's post is about Daily Point of Light Award winner Alex Ricciardelli, of Marblehead, Mass., who reads every week to young patients at Lynn Community Health Center. Points of Light recognizes Alex and other health center volunteers this week, National Health Center Week. Read his story and nominate someone you know as a Daily Point of Light.

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Sharing his love of reading with children – some who have never had anyone read to them – has become a cause of sorts for 17-year-old Alex Ricciardelli.

He got started at age 15, after learning about Reach Out and Read, an early childhood literacy program at Lynn Community Health Center in Lynn, Mass. The program recruits volunteers to read aloud in the pediatric waiting room to children coming in for routine checkups.

“The children you read to get captivated by the stories, and when they find out they get to keep the book, they’re so surprised and grateful,” says Alex, of Marblehead, Mass. “It’s terrific.”

Alex soon became one of Reach Out and Read’s most dedicated, energetic and imaginative volunteers. For two-and-a-half years, he has shown up weekly to read to kids and has recruited schoolmates to do the same. He once organized a drive that brought in 150 donated children’s books, and this year he wrote and published his own children’s book to raise money for the health center.

“They needed books, and I had enjoyed writing stories in school, so I decided to write my own and give the profits to the center,” he says. “It needed pictures, so I found an experienced illustrator, Jill Dister, on Craigslist and hired her.”

Alex’s book, “A Small Tale: The Adventures of Melvin,” available on Amazon.com, is about the problems – and advantages – of growing up short. “I was a short kid back in the day, so it’s partly autobiographical,” Alex says, jokingly adding, “You should read it; it’s the best book ever.”

Apart from the book proceeds, Alex is determined to get the reading program more support, by bringing in more young volunteers.

“Alex is an amazing young man and a born problem solver,” says Clare Hayes, who coordinates Reach Out and Read. “When he sees a need, he finds a way to help.”

Lynn Community Health Center relies on volunteers like Alex, as it serves more than 37,000 patients, including a high percentage from low-income and immigrant communities, where children are often less likely to have exposure to books and reading at home.

The center launched Reach Out and Read in the 1990s, with studies showing that children who are read to from infancy are better prepared to learn when they enter school. For many of the children coming to the center, Reach Out and Read is their first exposure to reading.

“They are usually delighted,” Hayes says. “Alex and our other volunteers … are truly playing a critical role in these kids’ lives.”

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