Literacy programs ensure children are put on the road to success

Reading to a child, from the moment they’re born leads to success in school, and it’s a fun and engaging activity for both parents and children.

Kelly Harrell, a Horizon Public Health nurse in St. Stephen with the Healthy Families, Healthy Babies (HFHB) program, said from the moment babies are born until they’re about four-years-old, children absorb more information than any other time in their lives.

“Research shows that reading to children at least 15 minutes a day from birth and beyond will promote academic success in school. Literacy is an incredible foundation that can set children up for future success in life,” Kelly said.

HFHB is a free, confidential and voluntary home visiting program primarily for first-time parents in New Brunswick.

Kelly said with HFHB, she works with parents and their children.

“Typically, we provide home visits to eligible first-time parents, which begin either during pregnancy or upon the birth of their child,” Kelly said.

The HFHB home visiting program is offered until the child is two-years old.

“During our visits, we cover information requested by clients, and focus on promoting healthy childhood outcomes,” Kelly said. “We provide assessments and education on topics such as nutrition, growth and development, literacy, smoking cessation, financial resources, mental health, and community resources, to name a few.”

Kelly established a partnership with her local Rotary Club and began to coordinate Rotarians Reaching Out to Read (RROTR) in the St. Stephen and St. George area.

“This program was originally created through a partnership with Public Health and the Rotary Club,” Kelly said. “Other community partners involved in the development of this program include: Talk with Me, Parle Moi, New Brunswick Public Library Services (NBPLS), Quality Learning NB, and the Literacy Coalition of NB.”

Shirley Downey, a St. Stephen-based children’s author and literacy advocate, recently donated 100 copies of each of her books Mud Muddelicious Mud and Fishes in the Seas to be used however Public Health staff see fit – read more on this donation in the September 2020 issue of the Horizon Star.

“This was very thoughtful and generous and we wanted to thank her for being a community leader,” said Pamela Thompson-Bourque, Public Health manager. “Shirley’s legacy is her passion for fostering others to support literacy.”

Shirley worked with literacy programs since 1991, when she founded Born to Read.

“The first five years of a child’s life are the most important. Just as good food builds strong bodies, good books build strong minds,” Shirley said. “Those beginning years, especially the first three, are the ones that will make or break a kid. That’s when you need to get that brain stimulated.”

Born to Read New Brunswick is a book gifting program that promotes the importance of reading with children. On the birth of their child, parents are given a bag of books for their baby, and information on early childhood development and library programs.

In addition to conducting home visits as per the HFHB program, Kelly represents Public Health on the board for Born to Read, and chairs the Horizon RROTR workgroup, which is made up of literacy coordinators across Horizon.

“Each coordinator is a Public Health nurse working in the HFHB program and is tasked with representing their local area,” Kelly said. “This workgroup strives to continuously enhance our literacy program.”

Kelly said funding from Born to Read has made it possible for the RROTR program to be delivered across Horizon.

“All families enrolled in the HFHB home visiting program now receive this literacy program,” she said.

Kelly said Shirley’s donated books will go to HFHB clients they see during home visits, and these donated books will help build a child’s library right from the start!

Th HFHB program is provided throughout Horizon, and Shirley’s books will be distributed in the Saint John Area, which includes communities from St. Stephen, to Sussex, to Grand Manan and Campobello Island.

Kelly said Shirley has been an incredible mentor to her.

“With generous funding from St. Stephen-Milltown Rotary, I was able to start up the Rotarians Reaching Out to Read program in the St. Stephen and St. George areas,” Kelly said. “And Shirley’s help was instrumental.”

For more information, and to access literacy programs offered through Horizon please call your local Public Health office.

Horizon had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Shirley Downey for this story in September. On Tuesday, Oct. 13, Shirley Downey passed away peacefully at her home surrounded by her loving family.

Horizon extends its heartfelt condolences to Shirley’s family, friends and all those who knew her and is honoured to have the opportunity to share her story.

Kelly Harrell graduated from the University of New Brunswick in 2001 and started her nursing career in Calgary, Alta. where she worked for approximately three years in hospital and community settings.

In 2005, she began working at Horizon’s Public Health office in St. Stephen, where she calls home.

Kelly loves her job in Public Health as she has the privilege of helping others work towards achieving greater health outcomes.

Disclaimer: Due to COVID, home visits with Public Health nurses were either suspended or limited. However Public Health nurses and dietitians have continued to support clients with telephone visits and “virtual home visits” as they work toward returning to in person home visits within the Public Health guidelines.