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A Note from Kris: Learning with Grace in 2020 and Preparing for a Brighter 2021

To neatly summarize what the year 2020 has meant to Minnesotans—to our families, young children, and healthcare professionals—and to Reach Out and Read Minnesota as an organization, seems like a nearly impossible task. In order to keep this short blog post from becoming the length of a novel, I will try to spare you most of the details. In brief, among the deluge of new information and lessons learned, the greatest takeaway has been this: we are absolutely blown away by the sheer generosity, goodwill, and compassion that our community members have shown towards each other over this past year. Not one of us could have predicted the challenges that awaited us this year, nor could any of us have predicted the amazing ways our communities would respond. Our healthcare professionals, families, and young people in particular have shown great flexibility and grace as we’ve coped with a pandemic health crisis, enormous economic stress, and a global reckoning with racism and inequity, of which Minnesota became the epicenter. I’d love to share just a few brief highlights

Executive Director, Kris Hoplin, and her daughter share a book with their doctor

Executive Director, Kris Hoplin, and her daughter (2018)

Pending final reporting, we estimate that Reach Out and Read Minnesota clinics performed well over 200,000 well-child visits this year. That means that Minnesota healthcare providers distributed over 200,000 books to young children and had over 200,000 conversations with families about how books and language-rich interactions build their children’s brains and help them cope with stressful experiences. This year, 67 of our clinics were also able to implement our brand new infant book bundle program, which gave families of children ages 0 to 5 months a collection of specially selected books to boost their earliest learning moments. That so many healthcare professionals wanted to do this infant book program during the pandemic demonstrates their dedication to providing the best care to young children. To the doctors, nurses, and clinic staff who prioritized early childhood learning and, against all odds, made our program happen this year, we say thank you. Your work is extremely impressive.

Outside of the work at our clinics, our community also found new ways to impress us. At each of our three virtual events this year, we were moved by our community members’ eagerness to learn new things and support our work. At our spring benefit, we learned from Professor Megan Gunnar and our new Medical Director, Dr. Gigi Chawla*, about how early learning moments can counteract toxic stress in young children. In the summer we learned from Professor Sarah Park Dahlen about how diverse representation in children’s literature affects children’s attitudes and combats racism. Finally, this fall, we gathered with our supporters online to celebrate all that our families and healthcare providers have achieved and overcome this year. Amid the greatest challenges our healthcare system and families have faced in decades, our community showed up, participated and supported our work at previously unmatched levels. To say we are enormously grateful to our community would be a vast understatement. 

While I am so grateful for each lesson learned this year and each moment of connection with our community, I have to say I am not sorry to see the year pass. This year has been challenging for all of us, and we have so many wonderful and ambitious hopes for the future. We hope that as the worst effects of the pandemic slowly, but inevitably subside, that families return to their healthcare providers for regular visits, and children can get the care and early learning support they so crucially need. We hope to bring our programming to more clinics who serve the children who are in greatest need of books and early learning guidance. We hope that we can further diversify our selection of children’s books, and make diverse books more accessible to our clinics, so that every child can see themselves represented and celebrated in literature. We hope that instead of continuing to ask families and young children to be resilient or adapt to difficult changes, we can instead enable them to heal, grow, and be the very best versions of themselves.  We plan to do everything we can to make each of these hopes a reality. We hope you will join us.

Cheers to a new year and a brighter future ahead,

Kris Hoplin, Executive Director

*While it now seems like a lifetime ago, Dr. Gigi Chawla only joined us in March 2020 as our Medical Director. We are so grateful for her leadership, immense knowledge, and compassion for families in this most unpredictable and turbulent of years! Thank you, Gigi!

An adult and child point to a book. Only their hands and the book are visible.

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