The Suncoast Campaign for Grade-Level Reading participated in Community Youth Development’s (CYD) Gingerbread Festival in early December. Our entry was one of 153 gingerbread creations on display for a festive weekend at the Westfield Sarasota Square Mall.

Our gingerbread entry showed a cutaway of a house decorated for Christmas. Gum paste and fondant books were piled under the Christmas tree, stuffed into the stockings and displayed strewn about the house.  One book was open with the message, “Reading aloud is one of the most important things parent can do to build reading skills.” We were delighted our creation was awarded the 1st place blue ribbon for our category, but that is not why we titled this post, “We won."

Our title was actually inspired by the connections our consultants and volunteers made over the weekend.  Heather Koester did a masterful job of setting up an engaging space with books to give away to the children and information about the Suncoast Campaign for Grade-Level Reading. We focused our efforts on one of the key pillars of the Campaign for Grade-Level Reading: School Readiness. Research tells us of the importance of a home library for every child, "Growing up in a home with 500 books would propel a child 3.2 years further in education, on average, than would growing up in a similar home with few or no books."

Alicia Chalmers coordinated a wonderful group of volunteers to engage with the attendees of the CYD Gingerbread Festival to help spread the word about Vroom. Vroom was designed to share the science of early brain development in new ways so that all children have the chance to become thriving adults. One of the tools Vroom provides is an app that supports early literacy by turning shared moments among parents and their children into brain-building activities.

I witnessed our community getting incrementally stronger because of the connections our volunteers were making with parents and caregivers, as they shared information about the Campaign for Grade-Level Reading and the importance of School Readiness. I believe these connections were as equally significant for the volunteers as they were for the parents, and so we say proudly: we won!

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