01 Dec 2022

Reach Out and Read RI Provides Culturally and Developmentally Relevant Books

Josh Pereira


Walk into most pediatricians’ offices in Rhode Island and you are likely to see a waiting room filled with children’s books, overhear a family member reading out loud to an infant or see parents and caregivers squeezing a new book into a packed diaper bag.

The books, “prescribed” by the pediatricians, are free, courtesy of Reach Out and Read Rhode Island, a national pediatric literacy program that provides children with free books during wellness visits to encourage reading out loud as part of healthy growth and development. Reading to children – as early as infancy- is critical to healthy development, strengthens social-emotional health, furthers language acquisition, and helps families build strong relationships.

During a child’s very first wellness visits as an infant, the doctors share the importance of reading together, “prescribe” books to the families and caregivers and send families home with a free new developmentally appropriate and culturally relevant book. By the time the child is 5, they will have a library filled with free books at home.

RORRI has partnered with 66 hospitals and community health centers statewid. In the last year they reached more than 35,000 children in the Ocean State. RORRI provided 68,000 new books at no cost to Rhode Island families, including those living in the state’s core urban cities: Woonsocket, Providence, Central Falls and Pawtucket.

“Our impact on the BIPOC community is two-fold. First, by the simple act of providing high-quality, culturally and developmentally relevant books to children, we are helping them build a foundation for life-long success as they not only develop a love of reading but also begin to see themselves in books and imagine all of the possibilities that lie ahead of them. Second, by reminding parents/caregivers that they are their child’s first and most important teacher, we are empowering that caring adult to embrace their role and build a strong relationship with their child, which will help them flourish,” said Aimee Falso, RORRI executive director.

The RORRI staff is hands on. Each week, staff members hand-deliver 1,000 curated, age- and culturally appropriate books to healthcare providers across the state- from Westerly to Woonsocket. They also research and assess what books are the most well received and remain sensitive to meet the needs of children and families.

During the pandemic, and now with inflation and the rapid rising cost of food and essentials, purchasing a book is often not in a family’s budget. The need for Reach Out and Read’s program is critical.

With support from the Papitto Opportunity Connection, RORRI is expanding its program and reach to a greater number of children and families.

“Partnership with the Papitto Opportunity Connection will give assurance to the medical community carrying out this critical work that their youngest patients will be able to participate in RORRI without interruption. Pediatric medical providers recognize the urgency of providing new books to children, especially as families face greater hardships during the coronavirus pandemic. A Providence-based pediatrician stated, ’Ten dollars on a book or ten dollars towards groceries?’ Families look forward to the free Reach Out and Read books at visits,” said Falso.

The POC investment will also allow RORRI the opportunity to create new staffing positions and provide programmatic support to 25 partnering healthcare sites.

“The funding from POC is transformational for our organization as it has allowed us to invest in our staff and program in a way that wasn’t possible before. It takes the pressure off. We are now able to make decisions that are based on what’s needed for our program to thrive and not just survive,” said Falso. “This offered us the opportunity to not only dream bigger but begin making those dreams come true.”

“Exposing children to reading and books as young as possible is one of the central building blocks to the development of healthy, active minds,” said Barbara Papitto, founder and trustee of the Papitto Opportunity Connection. “We know that children who read and who have been read to have better outcomes in school, and POC is pleased to support Reach Out and Read Rhode Island and its efforts to set the reading table early in life.”

Share your Story of Life

We all have a story. Your story and that of your community should be told by you, because it’s lived by you.