Residence: Warner Robins
Occupation: Executive director, Houston County Family Connections/Kids Journey
Q: Your agency has a new, homegrown program for young kids and families in Houston County. What is it?
A: We’ve put together a story-time program for children age 5 and under who are at home during the day in cooperation with the Houston County Public Library System, the Warner Robins Transit Authority and other partners. A major element is that we’ve added a Spanish story time at the libraries to serve Hispanic children. And if they need to, participants can get to the library free of charge on transit system buses.
Q: The Spanish story time and free transportation are in addition to the library’s ongoing English story times?
A: Right. We’re providing a Spanish-speaking storyteller, Bianca Raffols, at the Warner Robins, Centerville and Perry libraries.
Q: So the program is for all, but designed to make sure Spanish-speaking kids can be involved?
A: That’s right. And even the Spanish times can be bilingual — or not — as needed based on who’s there. Non-Spanish speaking kids and parents/guardians coming to hear and learn Spanish are fine. Some Spanish speaking families want to hear English along with Spanish so it’s flexible. All the story times have crafts, songs, movement and other activities, too.
Q: Where did you get the idea? From programs elsewhere?
A: It’s our own design based on community needs. We talked to people, looked at statistics and realized how underserved children under 5 at home are, especially Hispanic children under 5. Literacy and access to helpful programs aren’t their only needs, but are huge needs and something we could address. There aren’t a lot of resources for Hispanic families in Houston County.
Q: The under-5 age group is more about preliteracy, isn’t it?
A: If we can help instill the love of reading, then we’ve added a benefit to a child’s life that helps them from now on. If they aren’t reading at grade level in third grade, then they’re considered at risk. Reading is crucial in every area of life. The program not only provides a fun activity and learning time for kids, it also gets parents talking and reading with them. That’s a proven key to success in school. Did you know they determine the future number of jails needed by the third-grade reading rates?
Q: How does the transportation aspect work?
A: Participants get a ticket from us that can be punched eight times, then they have to get another ticket. You get on the bus with your ticket and can go to Warner Robins or Centerville libraries. The Perry Volunteer Service Outreach has already been providing rides to the library there, so this works with them, but we provide the story times.
Q: So in the north end of the county, you get the ticket, get on the bus and get to the library. Then?
A: A great part of this is once they’ve gone to the story time they can ride the bus free all day — or for as many punches they have left on their ticket. The ticket is punched each ride. In the end, we end up with the tickets and pay Warner Robins Transit for rides given.
Q: Participants can ride anywhere?
A: Wherever routes go, and they go to doctors, the hospital, shopping areas, First United Methodist’s food pantry and kitchen on days they’re open, to the International City Farmers Market on Thursdays, Warner Robins City Hall, the Houston County Galleria mall, Central Georgia Technical College — so many useful places. But it’s all based on taking advantage of the story time.
Q: What are other benefits?
A: As I see it, another benefit is where this parent, grandparent or guardian is pretty much home alone everyday with kids and that can get claustrophobic without transportation. The added value is it provides a chance for parents to meet other parents at reading times. They can socialize and the interaction can help them in their own parenting skills, understanding and well being. It certainly benefits the children and adds to accomplishing our program goals.
Q: What goals specifically?
A: We wanted to engage parents in their child’s education. The under-5 at-home child and parent, and especially those in the Hispanic community, are most underserved. Let me add that the program also adds Spanish books to our libraries, including the titles used in the story times going on the shelves.
Q: How do people get tickets?
A: They can contact our office at 478-302-5577 and we’ll work out getting them tickets. Our email is firstname.lastname@example.org. We’re also enlisting trusted community partners to give out tickets. So far they include the transit authority, Phoenix Center, Spanish-speaking churches and a few others. Anyone who works with this target group can potentially be a partner to make tickets available. We want people to get the most of it. If they call us and speak Spanish only, they can leave a message and our interpreter will get back to them.
Q: How can people get information on story time schedules?
A: The library website at houpl.org have the schedule and we have handouts to give away with story times, bus routes and other information. They can call local libraries, too.