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Garfield Heights non-profit aims to get families engaged in reading with lunch and literacy program

Garfield Heights non-profit aims to get families engaged in reading with lunch and literacy program
Posted at 4:44 PM, Sep 09, 2021
and last updated 2021-09-10 06:19:22-04

GARFIELD HEIGHTS, Ohio — Two out of three low-income kids don’t have their own books at home. Studies show that it makes a huge impact when it comes to literacy levels.

News 5 is committed to overcoming those statistics by partnering with the Scripps Howard Foundation for our “If You Give a Child a Book…” campaign.

This week, you can help us put books into the hands of children from low-income families — furthering their education, fueling their dreams, and breaking the cycle of poverty.

Abundant Love Community Outreach, a non-profit based in Garfield Heights, aims to get both kids and parents engaged in reading.

Founder and executive director of Abundant Love Community Outreach Nichelle Daniels knows from experience that doing things together makes families stronger.

“Well, I'm a mom of eight,” said Daniels. “Prior to the pandemic we got really busy with doing things outside, everybody go to your corner.”

Her family was missing quality time together, and Daniels knew other families were too. So, through her non-profit, she started a lunch and literacy program last year.

“We found that where families bond is over meals, and then we're also teaching families that through literacy they can find opportunities to bond,” said Daniels. “One of the issues that we identified is our children are just not reading at the level that they need to in order to be successful. And a lot of it stemmed from just not prioritizing and normalizing literacy in the home.”

Since then, 40 families have participated in the program. Typically, the group gathers at a community garden in Garfield Heights once a week during seasonal sessions for a hot meal, art projects, and lots of books that are free to take home.

“During the pandemic, we’ve passed out over 3,500 books,” said Literacy in the H.O.O.D. founder Chrishawndra Matthews.

The books for the lunch and literacy program are provided by Matthews, who passes out books to organizations and parents all over the Cleveland area for free.

Her mission is to get more books into the homes of low-income children and for parents to take an active role in their child’s reading journey.

“The children in the suburbs and affluent communities go to school knowing 1,800,000 more words than children in the inner city and urban communities, when in fact, if a child reads every day for 20 minutes at the end of the school year, they know 1,800,000 new words,” said Matthews. “So is it really a word gap or children in the suburbs reading? And we've got to figure out a way, a more creative way, to get our children in the urban and the inner city to begin to read, and help parents understand the importance of why children need to be reading.”

Matthews encourages parents to instruct their children to read for at least 20 minutes a day, every day.

“It’s going to automatically improve their test scores at school, you're going to hear it in their vocabulary, the way they speak, and you’re going to begin to see it in their writing skills,” said Matthews.

At the lunch and literacy program, families can connect with other families and work on those goals together.

“I’m actually really happy because some kids, a lot of kids actually around the world don't get to have this opportunity like I do,” said Sarah Wegrzyn, who attends the lunch and literacy program.

Many families are already seeing results.

“This has really helped my son improve his literacy skills and also just provided us access to free books where he's starting to build his own little at-home library,” said Yolanda Hamilton, who attends the lunch and literacy program with her son.

For Daniels, seeing their success only inspires her to keep going.

“It’s just been an amazing bonding experience, not just for my family, but other families in my community,” said Daniels.

“We’re fighting hunger, we’re bringing the families back together, we’re feeding the sense of community, because sometimes people are sitting at home, wondering what they can do, but sometimes you can just volunteer for different things that are already going on right in your community,” said Matthews.

Abundant Love Community Outreach is currently working on securing funding for its fall programming. To donate to the organization, click here.

To donate to the Scripps Howard Foundation’s “If You Give a Child a Book” campaign, click here.

Every $5 donated buys one book for a child at Wade Park School in Cleveland.

Jade Jarvis is a reporter at News 5 Cleveland. Follow her on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

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