February 21, 2018

Today we're back in Atlanta with Tiffany Tolbert, the Executive Director of Everybody Wins Atlanta.

Children who are read aloud to by parents get a head start in language and literacy skills and go to school better prepared.

According to Jim Trelease, the author of the best-seller, "The Read-Aloud Handbook”, developing a passion for reading is crucial.  "Every time we read to a child, we're sending a 'pleasure' message to the child's brain. You could even call it a commercial, conditioning the child to associate books and print with pleasure."

This reading "commercial" is critical when the competition for a child's attention is so fierce. Between television, movies, the Internet, video games and  after-school activities, the pleasures of sitting down with a book are often overlooked. Oftentimes, negative experiences with reading - whether the frustrations in learning to read or tedious school assignments - can further turn children off from reading.

Adrian and Ethan Finish Recording
Adrian and Ethan Finish Recording

Books contain many words that children are unlikely to encounter frequently in spoken language. Children’s books actually contain 50% more rare words than primetime television or even college students’ conversations.

According to the Children’s Literacy Foundation, fewer than half (48%) of young children in the U.S. are read to daily. The percentage of children read to daily drops to 36% among low-income families, whose children face the highest risk of literacy problems.

The problem is compounded by the fact that children from lower-income homes have limited access to books. Children from middle-income homes have on average 13 books per child. Sadly, there is only one book for every 300 children in low-income neighborhoods.

Because of the limited access to books, children in low-income families lack essential one-on-one reading time. The average child growing up in a middle class family has been exposed to 1,000 to 1,700 hours of one-on-one picture book reading. The average child growing up in a low-income family, in contrast, has only been exposed to 25 hours of one-on-one reading

Tiffany Tolbert, Everybody Wins Atlanta
Tiffany Tolbert, Everybody Wins Atlanta

This brings us to today’s charity.

Earlier this month, we sat down with Tiffany Tolbert, Executive Director of Everybody Wins Atlanta. This organization is on a mission to improve children's literacy and develop the reading skills of students in low-income elementary schools through shared reading experiences. 
Everybody Wins! founder, Arthur Tannenbaum, and his wife Phyllis had always read aloud to their children. Reading aloud was an important time to come together after a long day. It helped the Tannenbaums instill a lifelong love of reading in their children.  He appreciated how important the read-aloud experience was for children, and realized that there were many children who did not have the opportunity to read with an adult in their daily lives.

Arthur saw a chance to make a difference. His idea was simple: visit a neighborhood school once a week during lunchtime to read with a child. He quickly recruited four co-workers to join him at his weekly “Power Lunch.” Soon after, the volunteers’ impact became obvious. Children in the program were learning to love reading, they were gaining self-confidence, and they were becoming better readers. This simple program was enormously powerful.

Soon, volunteers from other companies were joining in. In its second year, Arthur’s lunchtime reading program grew to two companies - five companies - ten companies. In 1991, three years after his first Power Lunch, Arthur retired from his accounting job and founded Everybody Wins! as a non-profit organization.  For over 18 years, Everybody Wins! Atlanta has been devoted to improving the reading skills and developing a love of reading in students who are reading below grade level, giving them a greater chance for success in school and expanding their life horizon.  


Rachel's Playground
Rachel's Playground

At 9 years old, Rachel Ritchie realized as she played on the playground with her friends there were several children that had to sit out.

“I thought it wasn’t fair, I was like why should they have to sit out while me and my friends can play. I want to be friends with them, I want to play alongside them,” Rachel, who is now 13, recalled.

That incident sparked the idea to build a playground in her hometown of Vine Grove, Kentucky, built specifically to accommodate children of all abilities. Rachel took this idea, named it Rachel’s Fun for Everyone Project, presented it to city leaders and raised the funds with the help of her community to make her dream a reality. 

A gravel lot at Optimist Park in Vine Grove, Kentucky might not look like much, but to the now 13-year-old Ritchie it looks like a dream come true. It's a vision she had nearly five years ago that she refused to take look away from.  She continued to earn money to reach her goal, refusing to give up even when obstacles got in her way.