2019 was a year for the books: what we’ve done and where we are headed next
Every year, the flipping of our calendars from one year to the next provides a welcome opportunity for us to reflect on who we are, where we’ve been, and where we’re headed next. As we’ve welcomed new staff and clinics to our team and said goodbye to some of our dearest friends and champions, 2019 has been a year of monumental change, learning, and growth at Reach Out and Read Minnesota.
The one thing that hasn’t changed is the common purpose at the very heart of our organization: we want to do everything we can to help kids in our state learn and succeed. This past year, we’ve made some huge steps to do just that.
We started the year with a bang: in January, we celebrated Minneapolis becoming the largest “Bookend City” in the country. This means that every pediatric clinic in the city is an active participant in the Reach Out and Read program. Knowing that thousands of kids and their families across the city would be going home with the tools and coaching they needed to build their brains was exactly the inspiration we needed to set the tone for the rest of the year.
Throughout 2019, we looked for ways to innovate and improve our services to clinics and to families. Though we already know our program works--we have a mountain of evidence that shows participants in our program read more, increase language skills, and do better in school and beyond-- that doesn’t mean we aren’t continually making efforts to make it even more effective. That’s why this year and last we were one of five Reach Out and Read chapters in the U.S. to implement an early math pilot program that seeks to use books to teach children early math skills like counting, and making comparisons and predictions.We’re still studying the results, but we’re thrilled to be looking into new ways to help children develop these essential life skills, especially considering the major gaps in math skills that exist among children in Minnesota and the country.
In May, we received the ultimate vote of confidence from the state when the legislature chose to provide funds for the expansion of our program in Greater Minnesota. We were absolutely amazed by the sheer generosity and determination of the community advocates that testified and advocated on our behalf. Thanks to all of those who believed in the power of our program, we were able to secure funding to bring our program to families that need it most. In October, we used these funds to hire Cate Belleveau, a longtime educator and advocate for children and literacy, to help expand our program across northwestern Minnesota.
We were also thrilled to build a number of new relationships with Minnesota businesses and organizations this year, including: collaborating with the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux and Birchbark Books to provide native centered books across the state, working with Saint Paul Public Libraries to create multilingual posters for our clinics that encourage families to read and go to the library together, working with the Minnesota Children’s Museum to give families in our program a chance to learn and play together, and countless others.
However, just as we welcome new collaborators into our community, we also are preparing to make another major transition. At the end of this year, our Medical Director Dr. Nate Chomilo announced he would be taking on the position of Medical Director of Medicaid for the state of Minnesota. This was a bittersweet moment for us here at Reach Out and Read MN. We will miss Dr. Nate dearly as our own medical director. Whether he was on Kare11 news playing on the swings and discussing how children learn best, tweeting at legislators to support investment in early childhood, or giving grand rounds to fellow pediatricians on how to most effectively incorporate literacy into their practices, Dr. Nate has been a powerful advocate for our program. While we’ll certainly miss having him in this capacity, we are enormously proud of him and we know he will do a phenomenal job serving Minnesota families in his new role. We are grateful that Dr. Nate will stay on the Reach Out and Read MN board in a different capacity and we look forward to collaborating with him in new ways.
There is no telling exactly where 2020 will take Reach Out and Read MN but we do know one thing for certain: we have momentum. Never before have we reached so many children and families in our state (we currently reach nearly half of all eligible children in Minnesota) and never before have we had so many amazing folks on our side. Not only did we receive support from the state and local organizations, but we were also honored to receive record support from individual donors. Nothing is so affirming as hearing from so many diverse folks who believe in our mission. It is thanks to our generous community that we have accomplished so much this year, and we’re confident that it will be our community who lead us forward into an even more successful 2020. With your help this upcoming year, we are going to change the lives of thousands more kids.
Wishing you a happy New Year,
The Reach Out and Read MN team
P.s. If you haven’t made your year-end donation yet, there is still time to do so! Just click here
Thank you for your generosity!