Thirty-million words! That is how many words a child in poverty is behind by the age of 4.

In Gwinnett County this is further evidenced by the time a child starts kindergarten. Consider: 52% of Gwinnett children enter kindergarten “not ready” to learn.

Why should you care about these facts? Research shows that reading is fundamental in life. Being behind in learning leads to a variety of social issues later in life and ultimately affects our community.

The Gwinnett Coalition for Health and Human Services is leading an effort to impact early learning called G.R.E.A.T. (Gwinnett Reading Exchange and Art Transforms) Little Minds. The idea is that these little book exchanges will be in areas that we have found to have low access to books.

Children will have the opportunity to take a book and bring a book. We know that since many don’t have books to begin with, that we will need to fill the book exchanges with books to get started. We have collected more than 6,000 books and have some ongoing book donation commitments.

A project like this takes so many to make it successful. Here is where Gwinnett shines.

This is an example of how community collaboration collectively makes a difference. So many partners and community leaders are involved in this project. Here is a partial list to date of major partners:

Maxwell High School of Technology, Goodwill, Gwinnett Sheriff’s Office, John Upchurch, Early Learning Group, Dan King, Alive Studios, Books By the Pound, Gwinnett Great Days of Service, Primerica, Gwinnett Rotary Club, Annandale Village, Hudgens Center, Paul Duke STEM High School, First Book Club 165 and Particle.

More than 100 artists have painted these little book exchanges. Last week an art exhibit at the Hudgens Art Museum showcased over 100 of these tiny works of art. I was in awe of the creative talent and passion that was put into each one. I got to witness the wonder filled expressions on the faces of the young children in attendance, which brought tears to my eyes.

To continue this project we need your help. The next stage is making sure the book exchanges are placed into high traffic areas in high need locations. We are pinpointing these areas where we have found a lack of access to books.

We need residents who are willing to be “stewards” of these exchanges. What does stewarding mean? Checking on the exchanges to ensure they still have appropriate 0-8 year old books inside, seeing if they are in good working order and communicating with the Gwinnett Coalition to ensure successful usage.

Please contact our program director, Katie Gill, katie@gwinnettcoalition.org for more information. Also you can visit our website at www.gwinnettcoalition.org.

Now let’s get reading!

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Ellen Gerstein is the Executive Director of the Gwinnett Coalition for Health and Human Resources.

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