Town Talk Features

Programs: Reach Out and Read

Reading is fundamental for learning and growth. The concept is stressed from the time we’re little, and an early introduction to books can have a lasting effect on children’s language skills, literacy and education. To start local kids on the right track, SSM Health Cardinal Glennon Children’s Hospital founded Reach Out and Read St. Louis in 2005. Part of a national campaign, the program combines early childhood literacy with primary pediatric care.

Through Reach Out and Read, 32 community pediatric providers distribute more than 75,000 books to patients and families and educate parents about the importance of reading aloud. The program serves 50,000 children between the ages of 6 months and 5 years, and more than 90 percent of participants have a household income less than two times the federal poverty level. Children from a lower socioeconomic bracket are on average two years behind their peers when they enter kindergarten, making programs like these crucial.

This year, Reach Out and Read is the beneficiary of the Glennon Card program. The shopping card offers purchasers a 20 percent discount at participating retailers and restaurants over a 10-day period. Since the fundraising program launched in 2011, it has raised more than $1.25 million to benefit important patient services. It was created by SSM Health Cardinal Glennon Children’s Foundation and the Glennon Guild, a women’s organization that supports the hospital. “Through the Glennon Card, we’ve been able to purchase new technology and fund programs that we wouldn’t be able to otherwise,” says Sandy Koller, the foundation’s vice president of philanthropy. “It’s really remarkable what it has allowed us to do.”

The Glennon Card funds a different project each year. Last year, the proceeds helped build the 3-D Printing Center of Excellence. The equipment purchased allows doctors to create life-sized, detailed models of organs, better preparing them for surgery and helping educate patients and families about health problems. Other initiatives include the remodel of the 4 North inpatient cancer units; ECMO (extracorporeal membrane oxygenation) equipment, a type of artificial lung that keeps the blood oxygenated in children with heart and respiratory failure; telemedicine systems; medical transport equipment; and critical therapy for kids with behavioral and developmental disorders.


Koller says Reach Out and Read was selected this year because it’s an important part of SSM Health Cardinal Glennon’s dedication to keeping children on track with their education. “It’s part of treating the whole child,” she explains, adding that the hospital has an onsite school to serve patients. It also recently broke ground on a new specialty care clinic that will serve as another site for book distribution. “Fostering literacy at a young age is hugely important,” Koller says. “It helps children learn better, creates a bond with parents and gives pediatricians a chance to connect with patients.” The program has seen success. There have been noticeable increases in literacy scores for participants and a potential reduction in chronic developmental delays.

Koller notes that one unique feature of Reach Out and Read is its ability to help more children than just those who receive care at the hospital, making the impact of the Glennon Card even more widespread this year. She’s grateful to the support of the Glennon Guild and presenting sponsor Edward Jones for making the fundraising initiative possible. “Overall, it’s a win-win for the region: support retailers, save money and impact the lives of children,” she says. “When you purchase a card, the $50 goes directly to the hospital, so you get the opportunity to brighten children’s lives.”

Pictured above: Reach Out and Read provides books to thousands of area children.