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Tuesday, Sep 10, 2019

“It’s Bristol BABY!®” board book encourages reading from birth

Bristol Regional Medical Center and local organizations team up to help children improve reading skills

Bristol Regional Medical Center is uniting with several community organizations to engage parents, families and children in reading with the launch of a new book, “It’s Bristol BABY!®”

“The book, written by Shirley Vernick and illustrated by Paige Garrison, focuses on Bristol – a community shared by two states,” said Lisa Cofer, executive director of the United Way of Bristol TN/VA. “It takes a look at Bristol’s history, musical heritage and recreational amenities through a child’s eyes while engaging families to read to their children.”

“It’s Bristol Baby!®” is part of a larger initiative, Twin City Reads, organized and supported by the United Way of Bristol TN/VA, Bristol Public Library, Reading Buddies of Bristol TN/VA, and Bristol’s Promise: Youth Networking Alliance. Together as Twin City Reads, these groups facilitate grade-level reading.

“As a community, we are committed to giving our children the best opportunities to lead healthy and productive lives, and that starts with a life-long journey of reading, beginning at birth,” said Kay Ward, coordinator of family and community engagement with Bristol Tennessee City Schools and member of the Twin City Reads Steering Committee.
In partnership with Twin City Reads, Ballad Health’s Bristol Regional Medical Center will give a copy of the new book to approximately 1,200 families of newborns at the hospital each year.  

“The American Academy of Pediatrics encourages parents to read to their children from the time they're born,” said Greg Neal, president of Ballad Health's Northeast Market and chief executive officer of Bristol Regional. “Reading aloud to children is one of the most important things you can do to support early language and listening skills and, ultimately, their path to learning and good health. We hope “It’s Bristol Baby!®” will be the first of many books these children have in their homes.”

The book also includes the website for Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library, which promotes good reading habits for parents, caregivers and their children. Children who enroll in Imagination Library receive a new, age-appropriate book mailed to their homes each month until their fifth birthday. Imagination Libraries are funded locally through the United Way of Bristol and donations from individuals, allowing for books to be provided to families at no cost.

Once children reach kindergarten, they have access to Reading Buddies Bristol TN/VA, which pairs volunteer mentors with elementary school students through second grade to help them improve their reading skills. Volunteers spend 30 minutes a week reading with their buddies. More than 880 students from six elementary schools in Bristol TN/VA participate in the program.

In addition, Ballad Health provides B.E.A.R. (Being Engaged to Achieve Reading) Buddies – a program started through the Children’s Resource Center of Niswonger Children's Hospital. B.E.A.R. Buddies pairs volunteer mentors with elementary school students in kindergarten through third grade 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.

Read to Learn, which was launched last year by Big Brothers and Big Sisters of East Tennessee, continues supporting students in reading on grade level after third grade, a benchmark in reading skills. Read to Learn matches volunteers with third, fourth and fifth-grade students. “Bigs” receive literacy-focused coaching and books to review with “Littles” during weekly, one-on-one meetings.

“All these initiatives are key drivers for improving reading proficiency,” said Cofer. “Reading is critical to learning and development. Without this foundation, children fall behind in school as most academic curriculums are taught by reading. One of the most important predictors of graduating from high school is reading proficiently by the end of third grade.”

The idea for “It’s Bristol Baby!®” began with city officials Margaret Feierabend and Bill Hartley after they learned about a similar project, “Roanoke Baby.” Other businesses and organizations stepped up to endorse Bristol’s project though funding or support, including Bristol Motor Speedway’s permission for Twin City Reads to use “It’s Bristol Baby!®” for the title. The book also includes the Bristol Baby Bounce, an original jingle written by Kris Truelsen and performed by Bill and the Belles, americana, country group and house band for the Birthplace of Country Music Museum. The music is accompanied by a dance choreographed for kids by Camille Gray of Theatre Bristol.

Copies of “It’s Bristol Baby!®” will be sold at the Bristol Chamber of Commerce, the United Way of Bristol, Bristol Motor Speedway, the Birthplace of Country Music Museum Store, Believe in Bristol and Bristol Regional Medical Center’s gift shop. Proceeds from sales will be invested back into the Twin City Reads program and also support other nonprofit programming.

To learn more about “It’s Bristol Baby!®”, visit