Tim Penny: Early reading sets a foundation for lifelong success

Published 5:09 pm Friday, June 28, 2024

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Summer is a particularly special time of year at Southern Minnesota Initiative Foundation (SMIF). It’s the time when we have the joy of distributing close to 20,000 books to organizations serving young children across our 20-county region.

Early Literacy not only lays a strong foundation for cognitive and language development in children but also serves as a crucial bonding activity for families. Data from Minnesota Compass reveals that only 47.5% of southern Minnesota’s third graders are proficient in reading, on par with the state average. At SMIF, we contribute to literacy efforts through our Early Literacy Grant program.

Earlier this month we distributed 19,040 books through this grant program. These books were picked up by 53 organizations, including libraries, schools, public health organizations, and child care centers. These organizations work diligently to improve literacy outcomes for young children by incorporating books into their programming or holding special events. The beauty of this initiative is that these books will be taken home by the children, potentially igniting a lifelong passion for reading.

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The success of our Early Literacy Grant program is largely due to the generous contributions from Minnesota-based publishing companies ABDO and Capstone. Their support ensures that families have access to a wide variety of books, helping to foster a love for reading and broaden children’s horizons. Over the years, this collaboration has allowed us to distribute more than 230,000 books throughout the region.

SMIF also houses a designated fund that is dedicated to early literacy. In 2021, Mike and Tami Hoffman provided a $1 million grant from the Michael J. and Tamara Rae Hoffman Family Charitable Gift Fund to SMIF for the creation of a designated fund dedicated to early literacy. Three school districts in Faribault and Blue Earth counties are eligible on an annual basis for these grants. The Mitchel Perrizo Jr. Leaders are Readers Fund recently awarded $45,000 to these districts, supporting investments in elementary teachers, primarily kindergarten through third grade, allowing them to master literacy fundamentals to transform student learning into a lifetime love of reading and literacy success.

As we continue to invest in early literacy programs, we hope to see an increase in reading proficiency among children in southern Minnesota. The dedication of our partner organizations and grant recipients in promoting reading is truly inspiring. Together, we are creating a future where children are equipped for success in all areas of life.

As always, I welcome your comments and questions. You can reach me at timp@smifoundation.org or 507-455-3215.