Books & a whole lot of fun
By Angela Rogalski
The Bolivar Bullet
Reading At The Park (RAP) is a collaborative program initiated by Calvary Episcopal Church in partnership with Delta State Library and FLYZone, (Forever Lifting Youth), a non-profit with a mission to uplift and encourage the youth of the Mississippi Delta. The goal with Reading At The Park is to spread awareness about language development and its impact on literacy in Mississippi.
Co-founders of the program are Corinne Hegwood and her husband, Rev. Les Hegwood, Margaret Katembe, from Delta State Library and Kierre Rimmer, CEO and founder of FLYZone. Corinne Hegwood is a speech language pathologist specializing in early childhood language development and its impact on literacy in underserved areas.
Hegwood said she and her husband, who is an Episcopal priest, but was in education, have lived in many different places and she’s worked in many different school districts in her chosen profession with diverse groups of children and the common thread running throughout all the areas is that less than 25 percent of all children are reading at their grade level.
“Poverty is the underlying root of everything,” she added. “During COVID I just got tired of what I call “plugging the dam,” meaning we’ll have a literacy coach here, an interventionist there, trying to plug the dam. But if we could just build it strong from the start; if we could give children what they need from the get-go then maybe we wouldn’t have to keep plugging the dam.”
Hegwood and her co-founders set up Reading At The Park so that each month they can choose a different park in and around Cleveland to give out books.
“And, while this is a great way to distribute the books and encourage reading, we still felt like we weren’t reaching the children who needed it the most,” she said. “So we added a golf cart to the mix so that we can ride around different neighborhoods to reach those children who have no way to get to any of the parks. Our ultimate goal is to get a bookmobile, but for now we use the golf cart along with our parks distribution.”
Hegwood said that Reading at the Park puts books in the hands of children and parents, celebrates the importance and joy of reading to and with youngsters to help curb the language gap, and helps build a stronger foundation for literacy and life success.
“And, the kids genuinely want the books,” she said. “As long as it’s on their level and is interesting to them, they’re very excited. We have reading at the park every month, and the golf cart we take out on Sunday afternoons. We’ve been out three times so far with the cart and the last time we did it we had kids running out of their houses to get the books. They were so excited to tell us what they’d read and to get more books. It’s just so simple, yet so wonderful. We live in a book desert, so how are kids supposed to know what things are if they don’t have access to books?”
Hegwood said along with the books they distribute at the park, they also provide fun foods for the children.
“If you feed people, they’re more likely to come,” she said. “Domino’s in Cleveland has been terrific to us. Every time we do it, they donate seven or eight pizzas to us. They’re just wonderful.”
Hegwood said their next Reading At The Park will be August 6 at Amzie Moore Park from 11:00 a.m. until 1:00 p.m.
“That will also be a back to school event where we will be giving away school supplies along with the books.”
Hegwood added that Reading At The Park was a combined way of actually setting something positive in motion for the children.
“RAP is a way to actually do something about the literacy issues we have in this country. We all knew what the problem was and we were tired of simply talking it, because it’s the children who were suffering. So we just decided to try and do something about it.”