published Sunday, April 13th, 2014

Chattanooga celebrates reading at family development centers

Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke reads a Dr. Seuss book to kids Saturday at the Washington Hills Youth and Family Development Center in Chattanooga. Books were given out as part of "National Drop Everything and Read Day" to help boost literacy in young people across the city.
Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke reads a Dr. Seuss book to kids Saturday at the Washington Hills Youth and Family Development Center in Chattanooga. Books were given out as part of "National Drop Everything and Read Day" to help boost literacy in young people across the city.
Photo by Erin O. Smith.
  • photo
    Ma-Lahn Jones, 4, looks through books Saturday at the Washington Hills Youth and Family Development Center in Chattanooga. Books were given out as part of "National Drop Everything and Read Day" to help boost literacy in young people across the city.
    Photo by Erin O. Smith.
    enlarge photo

"Why is reading important?" asked Brian Smith, public relations coordinator for the Chattanooga Department of Youth and Family Development.

A chorus of children's voices shouted back answers:

"Knowledge!"

"To learn more!"

"Can we eat pizza while we read?!"

That was the scene at Chattanooga's celebration of "National Drop Everything & Read Day" held Saturday at the Washington Hills Youth and Family Development Center. As well as being a celebration of reading, the event was held to put the books collected the past several weeks during a citywide book drive into the hands of children.

Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke was there to announce the results of the book drive and to read Dr. Seuss' "One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish" to the kids.

Representatives from Amazon and Barnes & Noble were also present to hand out books to the children. And, if Dr. Seuss and free books weren't enough, children were treated to slices of pizza -- a kid's favorite food.

More than 6,000 books were donated between March 10 and April 9. In addition to the donations made by individuals and organizations around the city, Amazon donated more than 300 books worth $1,000. McKay's and Hamilton Place were also named by Mayor Berke as supporters of the book drive.

"If you're reading on grade level you're more likely to be successful, you're more likely to get a better job, to graduate from college," said Berke. "The reason that we started this five weeks ago was to really make a difference in the lives of people who are sitting right here, and those of your friends all around the city."

Berke said that 1,687 kids are actively involved in reading programs in the youth and family development centers across the city, and another 1,500 waiting to start. Books also were distributed to the other 16 other youth and family development centers.

"When I think about what the future of Chattanooga is, I'm excited because it's young people like you, learning to read, who are going to be the next leaders of our city," Berke said.

Berke said that statistics consistently show children are more likely to succeed in school and in life if they read on grade level, and his administration has made it a goal to improve literacy because of this.

"If kids are able to read, they can become anything they want to become in life," said Chattanooga City Councilman Russell Gilbert, who represents the Washington Hills area.

"If you show them the importance of reading -- and that's what the mayor is doing, he's showing the importance of reading. It's exciting. And if you want to become president, you can become president; just put your mind to it."

Contact staff writer Alex Harris at aharris@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6592.

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