Ferst Readers prepares for annual “Afternoon” fundraiser

Ferst Readers Regional Program Coordinator Debbie Ross (left) receives a proclamation from Rockmart Mayor Sherman Ross marking February as For the Love of Reading Month in the city during the Jan. 12 meeting of the city council. Both the city of Cedartown and Polk County Commissioners issued similar proclamations.

The local chapter of a group that promotes reading and literacy among young children is getting ready to host it’s seventh annual fundraiser while also getting support from local governments.

Ferst Readers of Polk County will host its annual “Afternoon with the Author” event Feb. 21 at In The Woods north of Rockmart featuring New York Times bestselling author Karen White. The group is sponsoring a community read for the month of February of White’s 2017 book “The Night the Lights Went Out” to coincide with the event.

Ferst Readers is a nonprofit that sends a free book every month to children from birth to 5 years old to promote reading and strengthen the community through books and literacy resources for young children.

As part of the ramp up to the event, the governing boards of Cedartown, Rockmart and Polk County recently approved proclamations making February “For the Love of Reading” Month.

Ferst Readers of Polk County organizers are inviting book clubs and civic groups to read the featured book, which was selected specifically by the author for the event. The novel follows a recently divorced mother of two who moves to a small Georgia town with her two children and has to deal with the scandalous events that caused her marriage to fail.

Rockmart’s Debbie Ross, a Ferst regional program coordinator, reported that Ferst’s mail-based system has worked well in serving the public at a time when other types of access to books have been extremely limited.

“Even during the pandemic, because everything we do is through the mail, nothing stopped. Nothing changed. People worked from home,” she said.

The Madison, Georgia-based nonprofit began in 1999 in Robin Ferst’s home. Ferst knew about Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library program in Tennessee. Ross said Ferst’s thinking veered toward her own state: “‘But what about all those kids in Georgia?’”

The organization now serves eight states, and there are more than 100 programs in Georgia.

“It has exploded in the last year,” Ross said. “It’s crazy.”

To receive books, children simply need to be under the age of 5 and live in a participating community. Parents can enroll them via the organization’s website, ferstreaders.org. Civic organizations like Rotary and Kiwanis clubs can sponsor a set group of kids, and many libraries are places where parents can sign their children up. Participation can be great for those who can’t afford to buy books or for families who just love the magic of receiving literature in the mail.

“We focus on low-income families, but it’s open to anyone,” Ross said.

The organization’s nine employees contribute to the shipment of thousands of books each month. The reading choices themselves are the result of a careful selection process that begins with a committee that chooses offerings from publishers interested in sending books.

Local columnist Elizabeth Crumbly contributed to this report.

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