Baby's First Book program has captive audience

Alexis Holden Welburn received her first book on May 13.

Never mind that her little pink fingers couldn't hold the book, that her eyes weren't quite up to focusing on the printed page.

The book was presented on the day of her birth at Providence Medford Medical Center by the Jackson County Library Foundation as part of its Baby's First Book program, which provides complimentary literary packets to mothers who deliver babies at local hospitals. The books are available in either English or Spanish.

The program, which was launched on Mother's Day, the day Alexis was born, is aimed at encouraging parents to talk and read to their babies, explained Shelley Austin, executive director of the foundation. "Research shows that babies absorb so much information from birth, and the more parents talk and encourage their babies with words, sounds, rhymes and songs, the more the baby's brain develops," Austin said. "Reading to babies helps stimulate their imagination and improves vocabulary."

As part of the program, each new mother receives a baby book, a parent's reading guide, information on the importance of early childhood literacy and a summary of programs for babies and toddlers available in local Jackson County libraries.

"This is great — I'll read to my baby," said Kayla Holden, the infant's mom, upon receiving the first packet.

In addition to the library foundation, the program is sponsored by Providence Medford Medical Center and Mercedes-Benz of Medford. The packets will be distributed at both Providence and Rogue Valley Medical Center.

"Helping families embrace these important connections with their babies is so important," said Dr. Nancy Hagloch, medical director for Providence BirthPlace.

Children and adults who are illiterate or have poor reading skills have poor educational, employment and health outlooks, Austin said.

For the past three years, mothers delivering at Ashland Community Hospital have received a similar packet, Austin said. That program was developed by Margie Cicerrella, a Jackson County Library Services early childhood specialist. It is supported by the Friends of the Ashland Library.

In Medford, Bob Crow, manager at Mercedes-Benz, has mentored children in the first through third grades over the past 20 years.

"I noticed changes in the children's self confidence, energy and awareness after reading with them," he said. "Over just a six-month time frame they made incredible gains and were reading like never before. Their test scores improved."

When his firm holds its 2012 Mercedes-Benz Dealer Championship Golf Tournament on June 23, $100 out of each $150 entry fee will go to the Jackson County Library Foundation and Baby's First Book program.

Getting people to read at an early age improves their future and that of society, he said.

"We have a great need for more and better education in our valley," he said. "Our students must be able to adapt in the future, and reading helps to prepare a young person for better opportunities."

Nationally, 25 percent of the adult work force cannot read well enough to meet routine workplace requirements, according to the American Library Association. What's more, 44 percent of children are reading below what has been determined to be their basic level of proficiency, it noted.

In Jackson County, 1 in 4 students drop out of high school, and 1 in 2 Latino students drop out, largely because of poor reading ability, Austin said.

"If we can encourage everybody to read to their baby, we can affect change," she said. "We can have higher test scores and better prepare our kids for the future."

For information on how to support the program, see the library foundation website at

Reach reporter Paul Fattig at 541-776-4496 or email him at

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