While literacy isn’t traditionally considered part of well-child visits, one organization is working to change this. Reach Out and Read believes that “immunizing” kids against illiteracy is just as important as general pediatric preventative care. This innovative nonprofit builds on the unique relationship that exists between parents and medical providers to develop early reading skills in children.

“We partner with doctors and nurses across the country to promote early literacy and school readiness in pediatric exam rooms and give new books to children and advice to parents about the importance of reading aloud,” explains Eric Belford, Reach Out and Read’s Director of IT. “Each child, from age six months through five years, walks away from the doctor’s visit with a new, developmentally appropriate book.”

Getting parents more involved in their child’s reading development also helps kids avoid the pitfalls of school failure, including low self-esteem, skipping class, dropping out, substance abuse, and teenage pregnancy — all things that can perpetuate cycles of poverty.

The Boston-based organization of 48 full- and part-time staff members has been working to increase literacy rates among youth for more than two decades. Two years ago, it began establishing satellite offices around the country to spread the positive message of reading to even more parents. This expansion served as the tipping point for a complete technology overhaul.

During this time, the organization added a dozen staff members in the Carolinas, Indiana, and Washington State. “After setting our remote staff up with new laptops, we needed a way to provide a seamless connection to our IT services at the National Center,” says Belford. “Microsoft has this great new technology called DirectAccess that helps us do just that.”

 

 

 

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A volunteer teaching a child how to read

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A pediatrician with a child, book in hand

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A parent and child reading a book

The only caveat was that in order for DirectAccess to work optimally, Reach Out and Read needed to upgrade all of its server and desktop software. This was no small feat. “We wouldn’t have been able to do this all at one time without help from Microsoft and TechSoup’s donation program,” Belford says. The nonprofit requested multiple licenses of Windows Server 2008, Windows 7 Enterprise, Windows Exchange Server 2010, and Office 2010. “These donations immediately cut down on support time and costs by speeding up sluggish computers and eliminating incompatibility issues.”

Having all employees on the same technological page not only increased work efficiency and improved internal communication, but also ensured that email attachments received from outside the office — from everyone from medical partners to donors — could be easily opened, read, and shared. “From a support point of view, this has been invaluable,” Belford says. One staff member in particular experienced immediate relief once her computer was upgraded to Office 2010. “Her mailbox was too large and was slowing down her machine,” he remembers. “The new version of Outlook solved the problem immediately.”

Belford hopes to continue to improve the organization’s technology platform this year by requesting Microsoft’s Lync Server through TechSoup. “This will help us continue to improve communication and collaboration efforts with our satellites,” Belford says with excitement. “We’ll be able to more easily share documents and use video capabilities to work together.” This ultimately means sparking a passion for reading in even more kids.

Reach Out and Read serves upwards of 4 million families annually, and as a result, more children are entering kindergarten with larger vocabularies, stronger language skills, and a six-month developmental edge over their peers. Microsoft and TechSoup are proud to play a behind-the-scenes role in helping to “immunize” kids against illiteracy, one young reader at a time.

More about nonprofit software donations from Microsoft

Do you work with a nonprofit?  The Microsoft nonprofit software donation program, which is operated in partnership with TechSoup provides software donations to eligible nonprofit organizations around the world.  Find out more at: http://www.microsoft.com/ngo .