'Early Age Literacy' matters

Karen Reynolds
Contributing Writer

An organization called Southeastern Medical Alliance, Inc. from Madison, has reached out with its message of the importance of early age literacy to Ripley County, not just Jefferson County, where the group is based.

Southeastern Medical Alliance began in Jefferson County 10 years ago to promote early age literacy. They have grown so much that they are now able to reach out to surrounding counties. A year ago, the alliance provided age-appropriate books to each child involved in the story time at Tyson Library. This year they are continuing that tradition. In addition, all children who register for kindergarten at any Ripley County school for the 2011-2012 school year, will receive a free book.

The alliance is doing all of this because they are saddened that many citizens cannot read. Adult literacy can be defined as persons 16 years of age or older using printed or written information to function in society, to achieve goals, and to develop knowledge and potential. There are five levels of adult literacy:

• Below basic
• Basic
• Intermediate
• Proficient
• Above proficient

Adults at Level I (below basic) may or may not be able to read simple words and text.

Adults at Level 2 (basic) may be able to read simple children’s books, parts of newspapers, patient information enclosed with prescriptions but often do not comprehend or understand much of what they read. Persons at Level 1 or Level 2 are funtionally illiterate. Approximately 8% of adults in Indiana are functionally illiterate and in rural southern Indiana the percentage rate is higher.

Southeastern Indiana Alliance is making a difference. They have been able to donate approximately 8,000 books annually to babies, toddlers, and preschoolers in Jefferson and surrounding counties. This means that over a 10-year-period, they have put about 80,000 books into our community, the size of a small library.

How it started:

The Southeastern Medical Alliance came into being as the dream of a couple of physician’s wives in Madison: Donna Kruger and Sandi Skiles.

They realized that many citizens could not read and took steps to prevent this from happening to subsequent generations. In April of 2001, the Bethany Circle of King’s Daughters’ Hospital, sponsored a luncheon for physician’s spouses to consider forming a medical alliance in Jefferson County. As a result, the Southeastern Medical Alliance was formed.

Members agreed to promote early age literacy as a service project in their community. In October of 2001, with support from the Medical Society, Bethany Circle, and King’s Daughters’ Hospital & Health Services, this alliance started a “Reach Out & Read” program in pediatric offices.

What they do:

Today, the alliance sponsors 12 “Reach Out & Read” sites in doctor’s offices and health departments across five different counties in our area. They also give out new age-appropriate books to local preschools and day care centers. In addition, they give new age-appropriate books to children registering for kindergarten, parents going through childbirth classes, and story hour participants.

Here are some of the other things they do:

• They provide baskets of gently-used books in medical waiting rooms.

• Give gift bags to preschool in-patients at King’s Daughters’ Hospital.

• Sponsor an early age literacy booth at the Jefferson County 4-H Fair with a drawing for a book-bag filled with approximately $250.00 worth of books.

• Make annual book gifts to local agencies that provide services for young children, such as Girls, Inc., La Casa Amiga, and the Salvation Army.

Kruger and Skiles live by the sage advice of author Carl Sagan, “One of the greatest gifts adults can give - to their offspring and their society - is to read to children.”

You, too, can make a difference in your community. To make donations to this worthy cause, write to Southeastern Medical Alliance at PO Box 305, Madison, IN 47250. You can also contact Kruger at 812-866-2252 or Skiles at 812-528-8150.