Sep. 18—When Connie Elliott co-founded the Longmont nonprofit Born to Read in 1992, she said she only expected it to last four or five years.
Now, Born to Read is celebrating its 30th year of providing free reading materials to families of newborns in the St. Vrain Valley School District.
Elliott and co-founder Gwen Sieckmann, both retired teachers, started the program to show parents how they could enhance the preliteracy skills of their babies by reading aloud to them.
"Reading to your child immediately is really important," said Elliott. "They may not understand, but they want to hear your voice."
Elliott recalled the early days of the organization when she and the other volunteers bought books for about 400 newborns each year. By the end of this year, the nonprofit plans to serve the families of at least 1,300 newborns.
Each bag from Born to Read contains two books, a library card to Longmont Public Library, and several pamphlets and flyers with tips on reading to young children. Once assembled, the bags are given to Longmont United Hospital and UCHealth centers in Longmont.
"We can't be there in the hospital, but we take the bags to the birth centers, and the nurses distribute them to the parents," said Marian Parsons, who became co-executive director of the nonprofit alongside Dede Alspaugh around 20 years ago.
Parson said she still has books in her home that were read to her as a young child.
"I remember learning to be careful with books because they were special," she said.
Every year, Parsons and Alspaugh apply for grants from local organizations like the Longmont Community Foundation and the Longmont Rotary Club. In 2021, Born to Read received a spike in donations, which Parsons attributed to the pandemic encouraging people to get creative with their spending.
"Many people said, 'Well, we can't go anywhere, so let's give money,'" said Parsons. "And we benefitted."
The additional funding allowed Born to Read to put two books in every bag instead of one, which Parsons said was a response to a request from "many, many parents" over the years.
The two books are meant to encourage parents to continue obtaining reading materials for their child as they get older. "It gets them started from day one," said Parsons.
Born to Read also has a collection of Spanish-language books that have been offered to Spanish-speaking families since the organization's conception. Parsons said the nonprofit wants to support parents reading to their children in their native language.
Every two months or so, volunteers gather at United Church of Christ Longmont to assemble the book bags that ultimately get handed out at LUH and UCHealth. Volunteers fill roughly 250 bags, covering about two months of births, at each assembly session.
Alspaugh said more volunteers are always needed. There are a couple of high schoolers who help with assembly sessions, but it "would be nice to have more young volunteers," she said.
Book bag recipients are invited to fill out a written evaluation with feedback about the program. The overwhelmingly positive response is a clear indication to the executive directors that parents are happy to receive the materials.
"All of the evaluations say to keep this program going," Alspaugh said. "They say: 'We're glad it's here. Don't stop.'"