Children in Mississippi are getting access to books and loving it thanks to the ‘Reading at the Park’ program co-founded by speech pathologist Corrine Hegwood. According to Mississippi Today, the nonprofit just hosted their sixth event in Cleveland, Mississippi where they gave away books, diapers, and pizza to families who attended. Corinne’s husband, Les Hegwood who is a priest at Calvary Episcopal Church in Cleveland, shared that he has seen great support from their congregation of the reading program with both funding and volunteers who are enthusiastic to spread the joy of reading with children.
Corrine explained that she was motivated to start the program upon learning that the children she worked with in low-income communities always sought books over toys. This led her to bring in “trunks full of books” to her students which gave her the idea to launch the project she is running today.
In addition to bringing joy to children through the wonders of reading, Corinne also is addressing a great need in her community. According to Mississippi Today, “in Mississippi, 32% of children tested kindergarten ready when they started school. According to the Department of Education, research shows that if a child tests as kindergarten ready when they start school, they will be proficient in reading by the end of third grade. Research has also demonstrated that children living in higher poverty households are less likely to have access to age-appropriate books or have a family member read to them, which has been shown to lead to improved school performance.”
At their last event, Reading at the Park had about 60 children register, 30 volunteers, and gave away about 1,500 books. Corrine shared that she is “pleased” with the amount of children who have been attending the events, and praised other organizations, such as the Diaper Bank of the Delta, for their support and for helping spread the word. Margaret Katembe, a librarian at Delta State who helps run the check-in table and register children, shares the sentiment of the Hegwoods that it is important to meet parents and children “where they are, which is why they chose to focus on neighborhood parks.” They hope to someday get a donated shipping truck to turn into a “bookmobile” so that they can drive the books to different communities.
For children especially in the early years, reading is critical for academic and social development. Recognizing the literacy needs of children who do not have access to books is the first step in making a difference in their lives, and taking action to get those books to them is arguably the most important step. The Hegwoods and those working with Reading at the Park are giving children a world of opportunities and helping them find adventures through reading that can ultimately change their lives.