Jeanette Velez is the Coordinator for the Chelsea Revere Family Network (CRFN), one of Raising A Reader MA’s (RAR-MA) longest standing partners. When asked what the power of the RAR-MA program was to her, Jeanette said, “something so basic that is so powerful. The ability to read is the ability to understand.”
The Chelsea Revere Family Network (CRFN) has been a partner of Raising A Reader MA (RAR-MA) since its RAR-MA’s arrival in Massachusetts in 2006. CRFN provides a variety of services for families with children prenatal to age 8 and is part of the Community Action Programs Inner-City, Inc. and is state funded through the Coordinated Family Community Engagement (CFCE) grant by the Department of Early Education and Care.
Today, RAR-MA provides the family literacy curriculum for CRFN’s parent-child playgroups, accessing 120 children and their parents/caregivers each year. Jeanette Velez, Coordinator for CRFN, has been involved with RAR-MA in her current position for seven years and works closely with RAR-MA Program Manager, Guadalupe Panameño, to implement the workshops and Red Book Bag rotation.
One of the most significant impacts RAR-MA has had on Jeanette’s ability to help families is the ability to provide early literacy coaching for immigrant and/or English language learners. Parents/caregivers who are illiterate themselves or non-English speaking often express fear and discomfort in engaging their children with books, even though they know reading is important. RAR-MA helps Jeanette and her staff teach parents/caregivers a variety of interactive (or dialogic) reading techniques that do not require reading the words on the page.
In addition, many of the families Jeanette serves do not have books in the home. Through the partnership with RAR-MA, she is able to give her families access to books that are in their own language, reflective of their culture and age-appropriate. With the weekly rotation of books, the families encounter new books each week.
Jeanette recalled a story of one child who was experiencing speech delays: “Typically, in the first week of playgroup sessions, CRFN informs parents/caregivers about the RAR-MA program and begins the Red Book Bags the following week. He had known the Red Book Bags because of his older sibling and was so excited to get one of his own. He would not leave that first playgroup without a bag of books and he could sit there the whole playgroup and flip through the pages. His parents first thought he did not like reading or books because of the speech delay, but through the program learned that his interest was there. They just needed to engage him at his own pace. They had a strict reading routine. And eventually saw progress in his verbal conversational skills.”
With CRFN, the Red Book Bag has become a recognized symbol in the Chelsea community. New parents/caregivers to CRFN enter the program inquiring how to access the Red Book Bags. CRFN has become one of RAR-MA’s greatest resources for recruiting Parent Ambassadors (volunteers who went through the program), which has in turn helped Jeanette and her team communicate knowledge with enrolled parents/caregivers. This is a testimony to the power of the RAR-MA/CRFN partnership and impact on the community.