Raising Readers, which has distributed nearly 4 million free books to young Maine children over the past 24 years, will turn its work over to a national nonprofit with the same mission that is expanding into the state.

“We’re working closely with Raising Readers to let clinics know that that program is ending and another is stepping into that space,” said Alex Chu, executive director of Reach Out and Read, which serves 4.2 million families nationwide, according to its website.

Reach Out and Read is also working with Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library, which offers free books to kids from birth to age 5.

In Maine, “our vision is to build up to the same amazing presence that Raising Readers had over the next five to seven years,” he said.

Raising Readers provided free books to children ages 5 and under through their pediatricians’ offices and at hospitals in the state.

Dr. Dora Mills, chief health improvement officer for MaineHealth, which administers Raising Readers with Northern Light Health, said the program is in the process of winding down.


“We are providing some linkages and a warm handoff to the program,” Mills said.

Reach Out and Read served as a model for Raising Readers, which has been funded through the Portland-based charitable organization, the Libra Foundation.

“It’s unusual for a foundation to fund something for 24 years. We’ve had nearly 4 million books distributed and (received) nearly $30 million,” she said.

She’s grateful for “the tremendous gift that they’ve given to the children of Maine and their families.”

“It’s important to read to children even when they’re babies,” she said. “Sitting infants on your lap and reading to them encourages their interest in books and helps them bond to whoever is reading to them.”

Mills anticipates that the transition between programs will be complete by March 2024.


Like Raising Readers, Reach Out and Read provides pediatricians with books and resources to help kids and families make reading a part of their routines.

“Pediatricians see about 90% of all kids,” making partnering with them a “great opportunity to reach as many kids and families as possible,” Chu said.

“All kids will receive a book at their visit and pediatricians receive ongoing training and support about how to administer the program,” he said.

Part of the organization’s mission is to educate families on the importance of reading, which studies have shown can impact child development and future physical health.

“Literacy and the connections we make between a parent and child” have been correlated to health outcomes in adulthood, Chu said.

In addition to health benefits, Chu said, early reading builds connections and relationships, as well as resilience. Reach Out and Read aims to give families the resources and knowledge to implement regular reading and use it as a bonding tool.

“We believe having pediatricians share books and information is important to make sure parents and families thrive,” he said. “Early relational health is one of the most important factors to help guard from toxic stress,” he said.

In addition, “when kids are younger, they’re learning to read, and then it transitions to reading to learn,” so those habits need to be established early on, he said.

More information about the program can be found at reachoutandread.org.

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