Nicole Noonchester of teh State Bank of Lizton reads from “The Carrot Seed” at Tuesday’s introduction of the Early Readers Club, a United Way of Central Indiana project.

Spend $20, grow a child’s interest in reading.

United Way wants to increase its focus on education, Dr. Ted Maple, director of United Way of Central Indiana’s Success by Six program, said Tuesday at a Boone County United Way breakfast.

To do so, United Way is launching its Early Readers Club program in Boone County. The ERC is part of United Way’s “Ready to Learn, Ready to Earn” mission,

The intent of the Early Readers Club is to put “high-quality, age-appropriate books in every home,” Dr. Maple said.

The $20 expense buys a dozen books and a “book trunk,” in which children may store the three books they receive every three months. Scholarships are available for parents who can’t afford the program.

An estimated 4,500 pre-kindergarten children live in Boone County, Dr. Maple said.

More than 97,000 books have been given to 13,500 central Indiana children, the United Way said. Of those, 81 percent received scholarships. Nearly two-thirds of Early Readers Club parents read to their children every day, UW said.

All children under age 6 are eligible for the program.

Jill Troha, Boone County Area Director for United Way, is looking for grants and private donations for the local ERC.

Ways of growing child readership was an undercurrent at Tuesday’s breakfast.

Tables were decorated with stuffed bunnies and packages of carrot and pea seeds. “You’ll notice an odd collection of items decorating your tables,” Troha said, then led the audience in reciting and gesturing the nursery rhyme, “Five Fat Peas.” The rhyme’s last line is, “They grew so big that the peapod popped,” accompanied by a clapping of hands. The hand gestures help young children develop the skills needed to hold and read a book.

Ray Cortopassi, executive director of the Zionsville Chamber of Commerce and Tuesday’s emcee, read from the book, “Read to Your Bunny.” “And your bunny will read to you” is the book’s last line.

Being read to helps a child become a better reader, and a better student, the United Way said.

Generally, the higher a family’s income, the more books are available to that family’s children, and the more frequently parents read to them. A middle-class child is read to on average between 1,000 and 1,700 hours before entering first grade, according to United Way research. Low-income family children are read to only 25 hours.

Nicole Noonchester, a member of Boone United Way’s Early Readers Club committee, said the recession has created “more needs than ever” for the agency.

Noonchester read “The Carrot Seed,” about a little boy who planted carrots and persevered despite discouraging words from parents and friends. The carrots grew as he knew they would.

The analogy, Noonchester said, was “we will see the fruits of our labors” by cultivating an Easy Readers Club in Boone County.

“I know a carrot is not a fruit,” Noonchester said, “but work with me here.”

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