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Thursday, Sep 6, 2018

Ballad Health team members help improve child literacy in the region

Since 2014, Niswonger Children’s Hospital has been reaching outside the hospital walls and into the community to improve child literacy through the B.E.A.R. Buddies reading program, which pairs volunteer mentors with elementary school students who need a boost in their reading skills. When five new schools recently requested to join the program, it became apparent that a lot more volunteers would be needed to help fill the gap. That’s when Chairman and CEO Alan Levine issued a call to Ballad Health team members for help.

“We sent out a message asking our team members to consider volunteering to be B.E.A.R. Buddies, and the response was overwhelming,” said Levine. “We challenged ourselves to get at least 500 volunteers, and we’re already at 100, which has doubled the size of the program currently in existence. I am so proud of our team members and grateful to have them on the Ballad Health team. This shows just how much they care about our community and improving childhood literacy.”

Levine hopes other local organizations will step forward as well to help support the program.

“The more local support we have, the more kids we can help,” he said.

The program currently operates at South Side Elementary School and the Boys & Girls Club in Johnson City. Due to its success in its current locations, five more schools in Elizabethton, Johnson City and Kingsport have enrolled in the program and are awaiting volunteers to begin mentoring students.

B.E.A.R. (Being Engaged to Achieve Reading) Buddies pairs volunteers with elementary school students – ranging from kindergarteners to third graders – who are approximately six months or more behind their grade level for reading. The student and mentor meet at least once a week, either at their school or the Boys & Girls Club, for an hour-long session. During that time, they read books provided by B.E.A.R. Buddies, or the students can select titles of interest.

Before the addition of Ballad Health team members, the program had around 100 volunteers, made up of community members, high school students and participants of Ballad Health’s Heart & Soul senior program.

“Our program constantly needs volunteers because the more volunteers we have, the more kids we can reach,” said Lisa Carter, chief executive officer of Niswonger Children’s Hospital. “Literacy has been proven in studies to have an impact on long-term health, and we need to do all that we can to help our children read. When kids read at an appropriate level, they’re more likely to achieve a higher education level, find better jobs, gain more financial stability and lead a healthier lifestyle.”

The program is a service of the Children’s Resource Center at Niswonger Children’s Hospital and aims to improve community health by investing in the health of children and their families through targeted outreach and support programs.

Any businesses, organizations, community members or Ballad Health team members interested in volunteering or supporting B.E.A.R. Buddies can contact Whitney Larkin at 423-431-4776 or to begin the application process. Buddies must be at least 14 years old, and a background check is required.

Any schools interested in participating in B.E.A.R Buddies can contact Nicole Moore at 423-431-1053 or

More information about B.E.A.R. Buddies can be found at the B.E.A.R Buddies page.


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