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Ohio’s first lady reads to Warren children

Ohio’s first lady reads to Warren children

Ohio first lady Fran DeWine, right, reads a book to children from Trumbull Community Action Program’s Head Start Warren West on Thursday morning. She made the stop to promote a literacy program that sends children free books each month through the mail. Staff photo / R. Michael Semple

WARREN — Ohio first lady Fran DeWine, wife of Gov. Mike DeWine, made a stop Thursday in Warren to promote a literacy program that sends children free books each month through the mail.

Any family with a child younger than 5 can sign up for the program by visiting ohioimaginationlibrary.org or inquire about the program partnered with Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library at their local library.

“Kids are very excited for the books,” DeWine said after her stop Thursday morning at the Head Start program at Trumbull Community Action Program in Warren.

In Ohio, about 42 percent of eligible kids are enrolled in the program, DeWine said. Every kid in the state in the age group has been able to enroll since 2020.

The program started in 2020 in Trumbull County, just before children were stuck at home because of the pandemic, said Ginny Pasha, president and CEO of United Way of Trumbull County, the organization that partners with the program locally.

So far, about 32 percent of eligible kids in Trumbull County have signed on, and DeWine said she hopes to see 50 percent of kids enroll by Christmas.

The state sends out about 300,000 books every month, amounting to 16 million so far, DeWine said.

Pasha said implementation of Imagination Library could not have come at a better time.

“We introduced the program in the spring of 2020, just as the pandemic kept families in their homes. The books came directly to their mailbox,” Pasha said.

The United Way and the Cafaro Foundation made the program possible in Trumbull County.

The books come addressed to the children, which can be an exciting moment for a young child, DeWine said.

The first lady of Ohio said she was turned on to the program when she watched her own grandchildren unpackaging the books, selected for their specific ages, at their local library, which had started its own program. Once her husband was elected, DeWine decided to champion the program from her soap box.

“I’ve always believed that it is so important to read to your children. It gets them off to a good start,” she said.

Thursday, DeWine read Eric Carle’s book “The Very Hungry Caterpillar” to 15 children enrolled in the Head Start program.

Head Start programs in Trumbull County are provided by the Trumbull Community Action Program. Van Nelson, director of TCAP and a United Way of Trumbull County board member, said he recognizes the role this project has on students in the Head Start programs.

Learning to read well at an early age has positive repercussions, as does the bonding with a parent, caregiver or sibling, DeWine said.

Plus, “80 percent of a child’s brain is developed by the age of 3. We don’t want to waste that time,” she said.

The program has shown it improves readiness for kindergarten, DeWine said. And because the books are the same throughout the program, the children reading them will have something in common to bond over with their fellow students, she said.

The United Way now is working to spread the program in Trumbull County, Pasha said.

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