Childrens Reading Foundation expands

Published 9:25 am Monday, October 2, 2017

An entirely new chapter will soon begin for the Children’s Reading Foundation of Appalachia (CRFA) as it prepares to undergo many great changes.

Although the foundation itself has proven to be extremely beneficial to children in the area, Director Debbie Knuckles believes it is now time to expand into something even more fulfilling— a full blown early childhood advocacy center.

The center, which as of now is expected to be titled “First Thing’s First”, will continue to be the same locally operated foundation many have grown to know and adore, but also plans to broaden its horizons to include several other useful resources for both children and parents alike. A few of the expected additions include: homework and learning help, a parent support group, tutoring with young infants and even reading help for older adults.

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Because the Hippa Law has made it especially difficult for the foundation to receive contact information from local elementary schools informing them of students eager for new books, the center will also include its own database, alerting anyone who wishes to sign up of new programs and books available that their children may enjoy.

“We look for 2018 to be our biggest and best year with many new and exciting announcements, partnerships and initiatives,” said Knuckles. “While our focus will forever stand on the foundation of early literacy and early learning, we do hope to offer a wider range of advocacy for early childhood and the unique work associated with how children learn.”

Knuckles is a former Kindergarten and reading recovery teacher for the Bell County school district who has dedicated much of her life to helping provide as many children as she can with a proper early education so that they may reach their full potential later in life. CRFA has given her the perfect opportunity to continue making a difference in the lives of many young children throughout the community, one book at a time.

The Children’s Reading Foundation was originally founded in 1996 under the belief that the entire community is responsible for the educational growth of children and part of the solution to reading proficiency. Before long, the foundation had several branches across the nation, one of which being the Appalachian branch.

While the Appalachian branch received funding in the past from both the Elgin Foundation and the National Office of the Children’s Reading Foundation, it is currently operating solely on community support through local funds and caring volunteers, such as Knuckles.

Several community leaders have shown their support for the foundation and its purpose, specifically those in charge of the Middlesboro Mall and the city of Pineville, as they have both graciously provided space for the foundation to use — completely free of rent — for years. Knuckles has expressed her gratitude for both spaces time and time again, as she says she’s incredibly pleased to see community leaders reach out in any way they can to help maintain literacy among young children.

“We serve a close and wonderfully supportive community, and we are exceptionally grateful for all of the local help we’ve received. We work to further a vision and mission that embraces great hope, great children and proven results. Now how can we go wrong with that?” said Knuckles.

The CRFA has recently moved out of its previous space beside the Bell Theater in Pineville, in order to allow the area to serve as the location for a new lawyer business. There are no hard feelings, however, as city leaders have promised to find a new space for the program as soon as possible, and Knuckles was happy to see the city expanding.

Although the foundation has several generous community volunteers and supporters, more are always welcomed — and needed — when it comes to volunteer based projects such as this one. The work may seem difficult, but many would agree that it’s all well worth it the moment they see a child’s eyes grow wide with excitement after being handed the newest book in the series they’ve been anxious to get their hands on.

One aspect of learning the foundation pushes to inform the public of is the fact that the majority of reading problem children have are entirely preventable and can be solved if parents would simply take a few minutes each day to read with their children. Many parents make the mistake of starting this too late, under the false belief that young children will not gain anything from the experience. This is wrong, however, as a child’s rate of learning between birth and age five is unprecedented for the rest of their life.

Beginning this routine young will also cause the everyday sessions to become not only a learning experience, but a bonding experience as well, leaving many children looking forward to these precious moments with their parents each day.

While the foundation does give away hundreds of books at various festivals and events each year with the help of Save the Children, it is about much more than simply ‘handing a child a book’. The goal is much deeper than a picture book about a cute animal, but what that book represents: the idea of changing the culture to support modern literacy, especially among young children.

CRFA plans to schedule a grand reopening of the foundation, which will then include the learning advocacy center, towards the beginning of 2018 in their new, larger space provided by the Middlesboro Mall.

“As we pause, only briefly, to reorganize and reflect after our first five years, we ask for our volunteers, partners and participants to remember us, and share with us, a vision that every child learns to read early and well, thereby reaching his or her full potential in school and life,” said Knuckles.