United Way partners with the library to bring early literacy skills to local families

« Austintown Neighbors


Neighbors | Jessica Harker.Kathy Mock, the Communication Impact Coordinator with the United Way and Josephine Nolfi, Youth Services and Programming Director with the library addressed parents and children as the joint program Imagine With Us Dec. 12.


Neighbors | Jessica Harker.Librarian Mary Yee read stories to children during the Imagine With Us program at the Austintown branch Dec. 12.


Neighbors | Jessica Harker.Children gathered to listen to Austintown Librarian Mary Lee read stories during the libraries Imagine With Us literacy program Dec. 12.


Neighbors | Jessica Harker.Children seperated from their parents where librarian Mary Lee sang songs and played games with them on Dec. 12 at the Austintown library's Imagine With Us program.


Neighbors | Jessica Harker.Pam Brock, Early Literacy Specialist at the library, spoke to parents Dec. 12 about how to improve their childs early literacy skills at the Imagine With Us program.



The Austintown library partnered with the United Way for the Imagine With Us program on Dec. 12.

The program is part of the Dolly Parton Imagination Library, which has been sponsored through the Public Library of Youngstown and Mahoning County in conjunction with the United Way since 2014.

“We just knew that the United Way could not do this alone so we reached out to the Public Library of Mahoning County and they were on board,” said Kathy Mock, United Way Community Impact Manager.

Mock said that the program started by offering free books to families on a monthly basis from birth to age 5.

“We knew that we needed to do so very much more,” Mock said. “That’s where the public library came in with their expertise with their early literacy specialists.”

Josephine Nolfi, the Youth Services and Programming Director with the public library, said that the importance lies not in having a lot of books, but in the child’s ability to comprehend them.

“It’s not a question of how many books are in the home, it’s a question of having adults in the home who know how to share those books in developmentally appropriate ways to maximize the learning that goes along with the various stages of brain development,” Nolfi said.

That’s when the library and United Way developed the Imagine With Us program, which aims to teach parents skills to help their child develop strong early literacy skills.

“It’s a joint program with parents and kids where kids will be reading along with the stories and learning early literacy skills while the early literacy specialist is telling parents simple things that they can do with books that will help their children get the most of what they are exposed to,” Nolfi said.

During the program, parents and children are fed dinner, provided by Panera Bread and sponsored by Covelli.

After dinner, children branched off to attend a story time event with librarian Mary Yee, where they read two holiday themed stories and worked on a craft. While children were reading with Yee, parents were listening to Early Literacy Specialist Pam Brock as she explained how they can best maximize their child’s early reading skills.

Brock told parents there were two key skills to developing good early literacy: decoding and comprehension. She explained that students need decoding skills to understand that the words they are hearing can be made with letters and sounds. Brock also said that students need to understand what they are reading, and make sense of the story themselves.

“Readers become better readers by practice,” Brock said.

She emphasized the importance of parents reading to their children 15-20 minutes per day, suggesting it be broken up to help the child hold attention.

“Remember, you are your child’s first teacher,” Brock said.

The Dolly Parton Imagination Library currently serves 5,000 local children, according to Mock, who said about 4,000 children have already graduated from the program.

“It’s quality literature,” Nelfi said. “It’s not so-so books they are specifically chosen for students at different stages of development.”

Mock said the program begins with the book “The Little Engine That Could” and ends with “Look Out Kindergarten Here I Come” when the child is ready to graduate from the program.

To sign up for the library and to receive one free book per month, applications are available at all branches of the Public Library of Youngstown and Mahoning County, as well as at www.ymvunitedway.org.

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