As she was leaving a meeting where she said there were more children than funding available for all of them to receive books from the Spalding County Ferst Foundation for Childhood Literacy, resulting in a waiting list, Louisa Melton said she was stopped by a parent who told her a story that explains why the group’s mission is so important.
The mother had adopted a child when he was very young. The first few months of life had been traumatic, and as a result, he had no language skills.
For the next few years, Melton said the parent read, sang and talked to the child constantly. A turning point came when the child began to receive his very own books from the Ferst Foundation. He realized the books were his to keep, that he did not have to share them or return them and that he could read them over and over.
Reading soon became his favorite thing to do. He began kindergarten and was ready to learn, and he is now a successful third grader, Melton said.
“No child should have to wait to learn,” Melton said. “So many children walk into pre-kindergarten or kindergarten with no language background, which has them starting two years behind.”
Melton said studies have shown that if a child is read to just 15 minutes a day develop better language skills, are better readers when they begin elementary school and are more successful academically. If they are successful in school, they are more likely to graduate from high school and ultimately contribute positively in the work force.
The Ferst Foundation’s mission is to help prepare young children for the best start possible when they enter school. It accomplishes this by supplying children from birth to 5-years old enrolled in the Ferst program with an age appropriate book every month until their fifth birthday. A newsletter accompanies each book with a guide for caretakers, an activity page for the child and literacy support material.
When Melton and Diane Pruett first formed the Spalding County Ferst Foundation, it started providing books for five children. By the end of 2015, the group was providing books to 1,115 children each month.
While there was a waiting list at the time, the group now provides books for 820 Spalding County children and there is no waiting list.
“This is a more sustainable number,” Melton said.
The foundation registers 90 percent of its children through government agencies such as the Department of Family and Children Services, Spalding County Health Department, Babies Can’t Wait, Head Start and WIC as well as the Griffin-Spalding County Library and WellStar Spalding Regional Hospital.
Melton said the Ferst Foundation wants to supply books for all Spalding County children from birth to 5 years, funding is a constant concern. The group does receive some funding from grants, but relies mostly on donations.
While enrolling in the program costs nothing for the family, it only costs $36 per year to fund books for one child.
All donations to the Ferst Foundation are tax deductible, and 100 percent of all donations go to books. Donations can also be made in honor or in memory of someone.
The foundation would like to get more Spalding County businesses involved in donating to the program.
“We would love to come and talk to businesses and organizations to get the word out about how the program works,” Melton said.
While the foundation needs donations, the local Spalding County Community Action Team also needs volunteers.
Melton said the team currently has 10 members but needs more volunteers to publicize Ferst’s efforts and talk to clubs about the program.
“We have got to get the word out,” Melton said.
Donations can be mailed to the Ferst Foundation at P.O. Box 2092, Griffin, Georgia, 30224.
For more information, call Melton at 770-584-6241.