Retired kindergarten teacher Chris Taggart said there's a big difference between children who have been read to at home and those who have not.
"Research has shown that children who are read to regularly from infancy develop larger vocabularies and, on the whole, become better readers in school," Taggart said. "And a good reader generally will be a good student."
The nonprofit organization Born To Read encourages parents to read to their children as early and often as possible. The group's volunteers visit infants born at Beaufort Memorial Hospital and Hilton Head Hospital to educate parents about the importance of reading and talking to their babies daily. They also deliver two books and other goodies to each newborn.
Taggart, the group's executive director, said Literacy Volunteers of the Lowcountry created the program for Hilton Head Hospital in 1996 and expanded it to cover Beaufort Memorial in 2002. When Literacy Volunteers decided to focus all its efforts on adult literacy in 2007, Born To Read became its own nonprofit organization.
"It got to the point that it was so successful that it needed its own dedicated resources to support its growth," said Literacy Volunteers of the Lowcountry executive director Nancy Williams. "We're proud to have been the birth mothers."
The organization's volunteers visited more than 2,000 babies last year.
Born To Read does more than just educate parents about the importance of reading. It also refers parents to other agencies, such as Literacy Volunteers, for adult education services and other help.
"Our aim is to increase the well-being of the whole family by these other methods, but the focus is on literacy," Taggart said.
Born To Read is a partnership between Beaufort County Public Library, Beaufort County School District, Beaufort Memorial Hospital, Hilton Head Hospital and United Way of the Lowcountry. It is run by two paid employees and about 30 volunteers. Taggart said the organization doesn't receive any state or federal assistance and making the budget is an annual struggle.
She spends much of her time asking church groups, book clubs and service clubs for monetary donations to fund the program. Taggart said in January, the Fripp Island Women's Club donated four huge boxes of books for siblings of the newborns.
"It's very important to promote early literacy," Taggart said. "It's a real need in this county, with children going into school without having perhaps the readiness skills they should have."