Raising Readers in Story County developed from an Iowa Stories 2000 project. Christie Vilsack initiated Iowa Stories 2000, and Ames was selected as one of 7 pilot communities.
Community involvement was a key element of the initiative. In Ames the project team was headed by librarians from school, public, and university libraries. The advisory panel included representatives from a number of organizations. A series of focus groups and public forums discussed existing literacy programs and what segments of the community were under-served.
Early Literacy emerged as the area of greatest need and young children and their parents, especially low-income families, became the target group for the Ames project.
Many of our early activities were sponsored and funded by Ames Morning Rotary. Two Stories 2000 team members trained with Baby TALK, a nonprofit organization in Decatur, IL, with a range of research-based programs serving families and children from birth to 5 years. Ames adopted the Baby Talk name and began evolving as a community collaboration. Following are some Raising Readers milestones.
2002: We hosted in Ames a 2-day Baby TALK professional training by founder Claudia Quigg.
2003: We began partnering with the Ames Public Library on their “Books for Babies” project. Baby Talk volunteers visited mothers of new babies born at Mary Greeley Medical Center to tell families about Baby Talk’s services and personally deliver the library’s literacy gift packets. The newborn visits are now known as the Raising Readers “Welcome Baby” program.
2003: Baby Talk joined with McFarland Clinic pediatricians to encourage parents to read aloud with their children at home. Our volunteers read to children in the waiting room. We became an official “Reach Out and Read” site in 2006 and Baby Talk started providing books for doctors to give to children at well-child check ups from 6 months to 5 years.
2007: We changed our name to “Raising Readers in Story County.” This better reflects our mission, which is to improve language and literacy development in children from birth to eight years of age and nurture healthy parent-child relationships.
2007: We started a Raising Readers Gift Book program by giving books to children at the Bethesda Food Pantry Thanksgiving dinner distribution.
2008: We started giving books to children at the Story County WIC clinics, partnering with Mid-Iowa Community Action and initially funded by a Bright Horizons Foundation grant.
2008: The first ten Raising Readers Reading Corners were created with a grant from Story County Community Foundation. The number of reading corners has doubled since then, funded in part by United Way of Story County.
2008: We developed and piloted the early literacy program, Raising Readers at Home (RRAH) for Story County families with infants and toddlers. Families receive gift books and information about early literacy strategies and activities that they can do at home to prepare their child for school and to become a reader.
2009: We expanded the Reach Out and Read program throughout Story County. In October 2009 we received a national award from Reach Out and Read as the first county in the United States to have all eligible physicians participating in the ROR program.
2009: We participated in the first annual Step Into Storybooks event sponsored by Ames Morning Rotary, becoming a co-sponsor in 2010.
2010: RRAH evolved into the Books and More Family Fun program in order to serve Story County families with preschool-aged children. Volunteer facilitators are trained to lead the Books and More programs.
2010: We expanded our gift books program including distributions through the Area Education Agency, Youth and Shelter Services, Mid-Iowa Community Action, and Habitat for Humanity.
2014: Started new StoryPals dialogic reading/literacy programs began in Ames and Nevada.
2014: Celebrating 10 Years of incorporation in Story County!
2014: Hired first Executive Director, Mary Harken.
2014: Changed name of Parent Education Coordinator to Family Literacy Coordinator and hired Jennifer DeBoest to fill that position.
2015: Partnership with Iowa State University College of Education, ISU Extension, and the Ames Public Library with LENA family engagement research project. Project is a three year partnership
2015: Hired Kim Hanna as Executive Director
2015: Hired Judy Dahlke as Family Literacy Coordinator/Educator
2015: Awarded Iowa Literacy Award from the Iowa Center for the Book and the Library of Congress
2016: Staff expands to three! Hired Lisa Reeves as Family Literacy Coordinator/Educator