In a typical low-income household, one in four children have access to less than 10 books of any kind, according to Reach Out And Read, a national non-profit organization. Traci Lester is the executive director of the group’s Greater New York branch, which works with pediatric offices to provide free books for children age six months to five years from undeserved communities.
Early literacy development is crucial to a child’s readiness for school. Studies show that reading aloud to a child increases his vocabulary and improves attention span; it also helps children’s emotional development. Reach Out And Read was founded in 1989 for these reasons, with the ultimate goal of closing the educational gap by addressing the origins of a child’s cognitive development.
Under Lester’s leadership, volunteer readers are installed at local New York pediatric offices, where they read to children while they wait to be seen. In addition to going through the normal process of a medical appointment, doctors “prescribe” books for parents to take home and read to their children, explaining the importance of reading in helping children develop early literacy skills.
Reach Out and Read distributes more than 7 million books each year.
Traci Lester is making history … as a leader in providing early literacy programs for low-income communities. Reach Out and Read has more than 3,700 such programs in doctors’ offices nationwide, serving 3.8 million children.
What’s next for Traci?
Lester continues to raise awareness of her organization and the need for early literacy programs in undeserved communities.
In her own words …
“The parents love getting the books for their children and the children are really excited leaving the exam room with a brand new book,” said Traci Lester, at a reading event. “It strengthens the parent-doctor relationship, and I think it enhances the pediatric visit.”
A little-known fact about the literacy gap …
According to a well-regarded 1995 study, children in low-income households hear up to 30 million fewer words than children living in affluent households.
For more information about Reach Out and Read, THE”>click here GRIO’S Q & A WITH TRACI LESTER
Q: What’s next in this chapter of your life?
A: I am blessed to say that I have accomplished many things in my life — lived abroad and traveled extensively, developed a life of service in the nonprofit sector, have a rewarding career, run marathons, mentored young people — but the single greatest thing that I am doing during this chapter of my life is raising my daughter, who is three and one half years old. All that I do now is for her benefit and I am determined to see that she grow up happy, healthy and self-assured and that she have access to all she pursues. She is a rising star
Q: What’s a fact about you that many people don’t know?
A: I am an avid runner and have run 10 consecutive full marathons and over 35 half-marathons. I plan to run many more. I first started running in junior high school, spurred on by my brother who was a track star in high school. I later competed in high school and a little in college. I took up long distance running after getting divorced and, like so many, checked off my first marathon from my bucket list. I never thought that I would still be running marathons after my first one and that I would have developed such insight and clarity through running along with some of the most amazing lifelong relationships. I love it!
Q: What’s your favorite quote?
A: “Learning how to be kind to ourselves, learning how to respect ourselves, is important. The reason it’s important is that, fundamentally, when we look into our own hearts and begin to discover what is confused and what is brilliant, what is bitter and what is sweet, it isn’t just ourselves that we’re discovering. We’re discovering the universe.” – Pema Chödrön, When Things Fall Apart
Q: Where do you get your inspiration?
A: My story is the story of two hard-working African-American parents, who didn’t come here from another country, weren’t raised in poverty, and who weren’t college graduates. They were a determined, hard-working couple who wanted to create a good life for themselves and their children. Despite blatant racism and classism, they aspired for the American Dream like so many. They put their three children through college and graduate school. I get my inspiration from my father who worked two jobs — one in manufacturing where he left every morning before sun up at 5 am and returned home at 4 pm only to leave again at 8 pm in the evening to follow his passion as a jazz musician; and my mother who worked full-time in early education and who was always available to me for every school event, parent-teacher conference, ceremony and event. I learned discipline and hard work from my parents and a passion to pursue greatness.
Q: Who are/were your mentors?
A: Along with my parents, my mentors in my early years included my sister, my piano teacher, and my high school guidance counselor. As I entered my professional years, it also included my former supervisor who hired me into my first professional job when I was 23 years old, when others may have had doubts, and who continues to believe in me as I move through my professional life.
Q: What advice would you give to anyone who wants to achieve their dreams?
A: My advice to anyone who is craving to achieve their dreams is to follow your passion, don’t give up and when someone questions your intentions be clear about what you’re trying to accomplish. Don’t be dissuaded by negativity, sarcasm, skepticism and doubt. Focus on what’s important and remember that “you” are your first champion.