Helping a child to achieve optimal health requires more than nutritious food and a safe environment.

Reading aloud to children nurtures their developing brains, builds stronger vocabularies and helps them to do well in school. The key to unlocking that experience can sometimes be as simple as putting a good book into the hands of a parent or child.

To provide books to parents and grandparents on Wilmington’s East Side, Christiana Care partnered with volunteers from the Pre-kindergarten Reading Encouragement Program (PREP) and Wilmington Police Department.

Amanda Kay, M.D., MPH, FAAP

“We knocked on doors and provided books to amazing families who were eager to read to kids,” said Amanda Kay, M.D., MPH, FAAP, interim medical director of the Wilmington Heath Center Pediatric Practice. “It is a precious thing to be able to provide books to families who don’t have these resources.”

Dr. Kay and others from the pediatric practice participated in a Sunday afternoon walkabout with Mike Wilson, PREP founder, and Wilmington police, who are building community relationships through the Book ‘Em reading program.

According to statistics from the U.S. Census, 86 percent of households in Wilmington’s Census Tracts 9 and 29 with children under 18 live below the poverty level, and 82 percent live in a single-parent family.

“Wilmington’s East Side is one of the most impoverished neighborhoods in the city,” said Bettina Tweardy Riveros, chief health equity officer and senior vice president of government affairs and community engagement at Christiana Care. “By working collaboratively in the community we can reach out directly to our neighbors and work to address the broad array of issues that can impact their health. We are grateful to have the opportunity to support our Wilmington neighbors.”

Wilmington Health Center is a site for the Reach Out and Read program. Reach out and Read is a national nonprofit organization that gives young children a foundation for success by incorporating books into pediatric care and encourages parents or caregivers to read aloud to children.

“Books are a staple in our office, and we encourage reading to children every day,” Dr. Kay said. “Studies have shown that children who are read to are exposed to more words across their lifetime, develop early literacy and have improved listening skills. Reading aloud builds curiosity, motivation, improved self-esteem and academic success.”

The walkabout also was an opportunity to engage neighbors in becoming partners in their own health. The team distributed health information and dental-care kits, and they encouraged families to establish a relationship with a primary care provider. The goal is to connect all East Side households with children under age 5 with reading materials and information to help them manage their health.

“Wherever we went, we were greeted with enthusiasm and appreciation,” Dr. Kay said. “If there weren’t any children in the house, we were directed to neighbors who have children.”

Riveros said Christiana Care intends to continue its support for PREP to ensure the program has the financial support necessary to reach out to all children under 5 on the East Side.

Christiana Care also was a major sponsor of the First Book First State event in December, at which hundreds of families and educators statewide had the opportunity to select free books for children in need. More than 45,000 books were distributed to families and programs at the event.

“Supporting families and children by supporting reading is one of the many ways we work to address the needs of the people we serve,” she said. “Being respectful, expert caring partners to our neighbors and partnering with organizations that share our deep commitment to care for our community is the Christiana Care Way.”