by Dr. Debbie Levin, Professor of Education
On Martin Luther King’s Day of Service five students in Montgomery County Community College’s Education in the Early Years Program, Rachel Older, Michelle Scarborough, Tamika Holland, Hillary Wagner, and Rachel Sciarillo and two faculty members, Dr. Debbie Levin and Mrs. Beth Lattanzi, visited the Preschool Intervention Program in Norristown for special activities with the children. The Director of the program, Karen Allen, explained that the program is a unique therapeutic, center-based partial hospital program designed to meet the needs of children ages 3-5 with severe social, emotional, and behavioral difficulties living throughout Montgomery County. The children, from diverse backgrounds and multi-risk environments, may have been victims of physical or sexual abuse, may live in foster homes, or may live in unstable family situations. They participate in a range of specialized therapeutic services and activities based upon their individual needs.
The Montgomery County Community College students arrived with children’s books and accompanying activities and engaged small groups of children in literacy based activities. All of them were students in Dr. Debbie Levin’s Guiding Children’s Reading course last semester, Fall 2012. One of the students, Rachel Older, came in to class one day with the following shocking statistic that she read in Parents’ Magazine: “In middle-income neighborhoods, there are on average 13 books per child in child-care centers, stores, schools, and libraries, but in low-income areas, the number drops to one book for every 300 children”. Rachel felt that the class should be involved in trying to “do something” to change that reality. Parents’ Magazine had a website for First Book, a national organization, which was trying to get books into the hands of children from low income areas. Dr. Levin suggested that Rachel explore information about the organization and report back to the class.
Rachel Older’s research allowed her to locate a local Central Montgomery County First Book chapter and sent an e-mail out to the chapter contact. Andrea Walsh, a former English teacher in Wissahickon School District, and founding member of the Montgomery County chapter sent Rachel an immediate response. Mrs. Walsh was invited to attend the Early Years Advisory Committee meeting and a meeting of interested students and explained her organization’s goals and efforts to raise money to put books in the hands of children right in Montgomery County. She also attended the MLK Day event at the Preschool Intervention Program and watched with pleasure as each child in the program was given a copy of “Horton Hears a Who by Dr. Seuss, donated by First Book. She explained to the children that each book had a First Book label in the front to write their name, where it said, “This book belongs to_______.” The children were thrilled with these special gifts. The Martin Luther King Day Program, organized by Debbie Levin to benefit children in the County was a true collaboration among three Montgomery County organizations, First Book, the Preschool Intervention Program, and Montgomery County Community College.
First Book-Central Montgomery has distributed over 3,200 books to programs serving children in need since 2011. The First Book Advisory Board is comprised of individuals from the community representing organizations and businesses such as pharmaceuticals, local school districts, and Mothers who work in the home. Students from Montgomery County’s Education in the Early Years Program were invited to a volunteer meeting sponsored by First Book-Central Montgomery on Jan. 27 at Bertucci’s Restaurant in Plymouth Meeting Mall. It is hoped that the collaboration with First Book will continue as students become more involved in the mission and success of the organization.