The Children's Reading Program started in 1994 as an outgrowth of the Literacy Volunteers Program of Martinsville. It is a pilot program in which volunteers read to children who come to the Emergency Room of the local hospital. When the child leaves to go home, the volunteer gives them an appropriate book to take home.
The program was a result of the efforts of William Peterson, coordinator of the literacy program. Because 27% of the population was functionally illiterate, Peterson thought one way to influence preschool children was to read to them. The ideal place was where they have no reading material, no entertainment and are subject to boredom.
In the past five years, more than 8,200 children have been read to and received books. As a result of the program, the complaints in the emergency room have dropped to nearly zero. The staff and hospital administrators have commented on the quietness of the ER and have praised the program.
In 1995, the program won the Virginia Governor's Award for Volunteer Excellence and in 1997 was awarded the American Hospital Association's Award for Community Service. The program has created interest in Ohio, Kentucky and as far west as Idaho. The funding for the program comes from contributions by local business, civic and church organizations.
Volunteers who read are trained for their work. High school students receive community service credit while other volunteers come from civic clubs, churches and the literacy program itself. When the program started, there were 19 volunteers; now there are 92 readers. The original schedule of two shifts per evening has increased to three to accommodate the additional interest.
The program is 100% volunteer with no salaries or payments for services. Civic and church organizations fund the purchase of books to give away. The reading books are checked out of the Blue Ridge Regional Library and renewed and/or replaced every two weeks. Parents of children who are read to may get reading instructions on how to continue the effort at home, if needed, from the literacy program through the library.
The benefits of the program are an increase in literacy volunteer/student enrollment, an improved atmosphere in the emergency room, awareness in the community of the importance of reading (especially to young children) and the value of reading in education.