An Interview With Earl Martin Phalen, CEO, Reach Out and Read
It is not just Reach Out and Read’s rapid growth and scalability, however, that define the program’s history. The Reach Out and Read Program has grown to include not only many more sites, but also a diverse population served. In 2007, Reach Out and Read launched Leyendo Juntos (Reading Together), an initiative intended to support Spanish-speaking families and providers, and the American Indian/Alaskan Native Initiative to serve Native Americans nationwide. In 2009, Reach Out and Read in the Military expanded to a total of 35 U.S. military bases, serving more than 25 percent of children of military families.
Additionally, a collection of 14 research studies provide an evidence base for our model and accountability for the program. In 1998, the American Academy of Pediatrics officially endorsed Reach Out and Read’s proven model of early literacy promotion.
FS: How do you fund your mission?
EP: A number of different sources fund Reach Out and Read. Fifty percent of our operating revenue comes from federal and state grants, 25 percent comes from generous, in-kind book sponsors such as Scholastic Inc., and 15 percent comes from philanthropic foundations and corporations. The remaining funds are sourced from individual contributions, events and fiscal sponsorship.
FS: What are the biggest challenges your organization faces as far as fundraising is concerned? How do you overcome them?
EP: As with many nonprofit organizations, there is always the challenge of funding organizations focusing on causes other than our own. Specific to Reach Out and Read, however, is the reality that too many people think investing in children and education means to invest only in children currently in school. Such an assumption could not be more false.
The most significant period for early childhood development occurs from birth to age 5, when a child’s brain grows more rapidly than at any other life stage. Waiting until kindergarten is far too late; children need to enter school with the skills needed to learn to read and succeed. Early language skills, based primarily on language exposure that results from parents and other adults talking to young children, are the foundation for reading ability. Reach Out and Read works hard to convince funders that an investment in early literacy and education prevents problems that surface in grades K-12 and beyond.