Interview with Reach Out and Read Philanthropy

A Nonprofit That Helps the San Diego Community

Photo from The Odyssey Online

Project Director Tara Milbrand has been working with Reach Out and Read for several years now, helping the program grow throughout San Diego and Imperial County. The focus is to help parents have the resources and encouragement to read out loud to their children in order to further their development and maintain the parent-child bond often developed through reading. 

Reach Out and Read is a nonprofit organization that partners with medical providers to promote literacy and school readiness in their pediatric exam rooms. They start by giving new books to children and advice to parents on reading aloud. Beginning at six months of age, the medical providers try to assist parents in developing their children's critical reading skills so that they are better prepared to succeed once they are of school age. Research shows that working on their early development reading skills will increase their overall vocabulary and provide children with stronger language skills. We interviewed Project Director Tara Milbrand regarding her involvement in the Reach Out and Read program and how she feels this nonprofit benefits the children of San Diego County.  

How did the program Reach Out and Read get started? Was there something that inspired you to become a part of this program?  

Reach Out and Read was started in 1989 by a pediatrician who brought used books in from his home and noticed them disappearing from the waiting room. He recognized a need in the community and started giving books to families and encouraging daily reading at home. Since then, there have been 15 peer-reviewed studies that show that when children receive age appropriate read aloud advice from their pediatrician they score higher on vocabulary tests, have more books in the home, and are read to more often. The importance of this intervention is so well-documented that the American Academy of Pediatrics released a policy statement in 2014 that pediatricians should incorporate read aloud advice in all child checks from birth through age five. 

Here in San Diego County, the local chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics began a coordinated effort, over 10 years ago, to grow and sustain the Reach Out and Read program. I was fortunate enough to be hired as the Program Director at the inception and have grown the program to 84 offices in San Diego and Imperial Counties. The [Reach Out and Read] message resonates with me as a mother of four and an avid reader. I have fond memories of my grandmother reading nursery rhymes to me as a child and could not image a childhood without books. Unfortunately many of the children who participate in Reach Out and Read have very little access to books and often have never owned a book before their pediatrician gave them one. 

What is your role in this non-profit and what do you gain from it? 

As the Project Director I am tasked with ensuring that 84 offices have enough books to give away to over 84,000 children a year, as well as ensuring the quality at the offices by maintaining fidelity to the program model. The best part of my job is meeting with the doctors and nurses who tell me the stories of how the childrens’ faces light up when they receive a book and how much they appreciate it. I am also proud that including read aloud advice in the well child check has become the gold standard of care in San Diego.

What prior experience did you have before working with Reach out and Read that influenced your participation in it?

Reach Out and Read takes me back to my undergraduate and graduate work in Child Development. I have always been fascinated by the connections that are formed in the brain, the role that the environment has in shaping how the brain grows, and how the child develops. Intuitively it just makes sense to read to young children. Now brain research shows us that when you read to a child, important brain connections are being made that lead to independent reading. 

How do you feel this program impacts the community of San Diego specifically? How do you feel this program helps children and their families in this area? How does this program appeal to San Diego natives?

Reach Out and Read is a simple, effective program with doctors and nurses acting as “volunteers” to deliver a read aloud message to families. In San Diego, over 250 health care professionals take part in the program in almost every health care system in the county. Pediatricians are a trusted messenger with repeated access to young children and their families. Families respond to the message, and when they take their children to regular checkups they have ten opportunities to receive a new book and learn about the value of daily reading. Daily reading aloud is the single most effective tool for preparing children for independent reading and eventual school success. 

What is the future plan for Reach Out and Read? 

Reach Out and Read San Diego continues to grow and serve more children every year. We are always in need of new books, gently used books for the waiting room, volunteers, and advocates to join our fundraising committee!

For more information on how you can get involved, visit the Reach Out and Read website.