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Jacobi’s Popular ‘Reach Out and Read’ Program Expanding with Help from Charitable Donations

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The very successful “Reach Out and Read” (ROR) program at NYC Health + Hospitals/Jacobi recently received more than $25,000 in charitable donations that will enable the program to significantly expand this year. Under the ROR program, pediatricians give age-appropriate books to parents when they bring their children to Jacobi for regularly scheduled doctor visits and urge them to read to their children every day.

“The idea is that pediatricians are uniquely placed to offer anticipatory guidance to parents,” said Dr. Elizabeth Worley, a pediatrician who started Jacobi’s ROR program in 1999. “It promotes not just future literacy but also language development. Parents want to do best by their children and come to the doctor expecting to receive both health and parenting advice. We hope that by emphasizing the benefits of daily reading, and coupling this advice with the gift of a book, parents will spend more time reading with their children.”

Jacobi now has 22,000 regularly scheduled well visits every year for children aged between six months and six years. The average child visits Jacobi for ten check-ups between those ages, which Dr. Worley says gives the ROR program the opportunity to help each child create a library of 10 books by the time they enter kindergarten.

The donations came from several foundations, including the Taft Foundation, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Harley Family Fund. With the contributions, Dr. Worley is hoping to expand the program for up to 5,000 children who visit the hospital when they are sick, as well as include older children who visit the hospital.

The Reach Out and Read program is a nationally recognized program that encourages young children to read. According to an article in the journal Pediatrics: “Providing books at pediatric primary care visits to families at economic and social risk, together with developmentally appropriate anticipatory guidance encouraging parents to read aloud with their children, has a powerful effect on the home environment of young children. It directly affects language development, a major factor in school readiness, during the critical period of early brain development.”

Dr. Worley makes sure the books they give are right for each developmental stage. For example, babies like books with photographs and toddlers like rhyming books. Parents can also use these books as a springboard for storytelling even if they do not speak English, an important fact for Jacobi’s culturally diverse population.

Dr. Worley wanted to be a pediatrician since childhood. “I spent a fair amount of time in the hospital as a kid,” she said. “The doctors in my life were the people I very much looked up to.”

She received her M.D. from the University of Pennsylvania, trained at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and came to Jacobi in 1998 for five years. She then earned her master’s degree from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and returned to Jacobi in 2012.