Read 20 encourages parents and grandparents to read to children in order to foster a love of reading. (Photo: MGNOnline)

Read 20, a local partnership program that aims to promote literacy skills for early childhood, has begun a business outreach program to promote reading initiatives to parents and grandparents. 

Shawn Kurrelmeier-Lee, chief reading officer for Read 20, said the program originally focused on preschools and daycares to expose young children to reading. The message of the organization is simple: to encourage parents and grandparents to read to a child for 20 minutes every day to help expand their vocabulary and improve literacy. 

"It can mean the difference between having 300,000 words in your vocabulary and having 30,000 words," she said. 

The organization's new business-focused initiative was piloted at BlueCross BlueShield, but now has branched out to AT&T and Village Volkswagen, Kurrelmeier-Lee said.

“One of the avenues to raise awareness and get more parents to read to their children is to go through the businesses ... It sends the message home a little stronger,” she said.

She said Read 20 joins with local businesses to give away books, help people pick the right kinds of books for their child and learn how to read interactively with a child.

“Part of the reason this is so important for the community, or any community really, is reading is fundamental,” Kurrelmeier-Lee said. “If you don't increase the education in the community, you probably aren't increasing the education level of the workforce.”

AT&T, which donated $5,000 to the program to help purchase books to give away, are joining efforts with Read 20 and wants to encourage more businesses to participate. The money donated will help purchase up to 200,000 books for Hamilton County children. 

Mary Stewart Lewis, regional director for external and legislative affairs, said AT&T hosted an event for workers that provided books and information on reading to kids.

“The employees were thrilled ... they loved it,” Lewis said. “Many of them said they forgot reading a story with so much enthusiasm helps to make the story engaging.”

Lewis said they hope to ask Read 20 members to come back again at the end of the summer for another event.

“We were excited to be able to be part of it, and we hope many more businesses will follow,” Lewis said. “Chattanooga has a lot of great things going for it, but if we can't get the education where it needs to be, then we are not going to continue on this great path that we are on.”

Since it was created in 2006, Read 20 has interacted with more than 102,506 children and provided resources and training for 1,977 teachers in area public schools and daycares, according to a Read 20 press release. 

"We appreciate AT&T's support for the important work of preparing our children for the jobs of the 21st century," Hamilton County Mayor Jim Coppinger said in the release. "Make no mistake about it ... reading to children is economic development. It's easier to see the connection with large initiatives, like providing employee training for new companies or creating a STEM education program. But reading is the foundation for all of these efforts."