United Way celebrates six years of free books

Sitting in a doctor's office about three years ago, Latasha Rogan noticed a brochure that advertised a way for her 2-month-old daughter to receive free books.

The brochure was for the United Way of Greater Chattanooga's Project Ready for School, which mails a book once a month at no charge to children under age 5. Funding and other help comes from the Governor's Books from Birth Foundation, Dolly Parton's Imagination Library and Hamilton County Mayor Claude Ramsey.

Rogan said her now 3-year-old daughter, Jamya, looks forward to receiving a new book every month. Her favorite so far is "Llama Llama Red Pajama," Rogan said.

"I think she will really want to keep learning to read and enjoy reading books later in life," Rogan said.

The Rogans and several hundred other families came to Warner Park on Sunday to celebrate Project Ready for School's sixth anniversary with horse rides, a firetruck, arts and crafts, games and other activities. The main focus of the day, though, was encouraging children to read through Project Ready for School.

According to the United Way, more than 18,000 children are signed up in the five-county region it serves - Hamilton and Marion in Tennessee and Catoosa, Dade and Walker in Georgia. Some Georgia communities may incur some of the costs for the program.

A child who is signed up at birth would receive 60 books before turning 5, said Anne Gamble, director of Project Ready for School.

"Research tells us that children who have books in their homes have better literacy skills," she said.

HOW TO ENROLLEnrollment forms are available at www.liveunitedchattanooga.org or by calling 423-752-0328.

Hamilton County has 13,000 children signed up and the program has grown by 4 percent since 2009, according to United Way.

"Our attitude has always been: 'the more the merrier,'" said Kelley Nave, a spokeswoman for the United Way.

Veda Turner said she signed up her 4-year-old, Savannah Curtis, two years ago.

"She's been really excited about it, and she can't wait to read them," Turner said. "She likes to read, and I think this has definitely helped."

Contact Michael Stone at mstone@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6673.