Fifth Annual Family Literacy Day is set for Saturday at Chelsea Public Library

You know your community event has attained a significant level of interest when attendance grows each year and children and their parents excitedly anticipate its arrival each year.

That’s what the organizers of the Annual Family Literacy Day: “Chelsea Reads” have been able to accomplish with their annual educational and fun event held at the Chelsea Public Library.

The 5th Annual Family Literacy Day is scheduled for this Saturday, Nov. 6, from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m, at the library.

In what promises to make it an even more enjoyable day for Chelsea children: each child will go home with a free backpack full of books.

Margo Johnson, administrative assistant at the Massachusetts General Hospital Chelsea Healthcare Center (MGH is one of the event’s founding sponsors), said the event will add an “emergency preparedness” component to go along with the variety of family activities, guest storytellers, and face painting booth that are staples of past literacy days.

Patricia Simpson, a registered nurse and community leader in Charlestown, will be reading a book about children protecting themselves against germs and how to stay healthy.

“Part of the reason for targeting children is that I believe that it is important for children to know about hand hygiene, respiratory etiquette, and staying healthy – so not only do they practice it, but they can bring it home to their families,” said Simpson. “We charge the children to be the educators to their families and they step up and be the leaders and they take it very seriously.”

Mass General Hospital Chelsea Healthcare Center, Chelsea Public Library, the Raising A Reader program, CAPIC Head Start, and the Lewis Latimer Society were among the original sponsors of the event.

The list of participating groups has expanded to include Chelsea/Revere Family and Community Network, CAPIC After School Program, Kool Smiles, A Kangaroo’s Pouch, Jordan Boys and Girls Club, Girl Scouts of Eastern Massachusetts, Museum of Science, Women, Infants and Children (WIC), and G.A.M.E.S.

Robert Collins, executive director of CPL, and Sarah Gay, children’s librarian, lead the effort at the library, which has been enjoying a tremendous growth in use by Chelsea residents.

“The start of Literacy Day coincided with the launch of the Raising A Reader program and Reach out and Read effort,” said Collins. “They initiated it and suggested the library be the site of the first-year event.”

The first Literacy Day drew about eighty people. Last year, more than 400 people attended the event, representing a 400 percent increase in attendance from the first year. The organizers are adding a third hour to the schedule.

How have Margo Johnson and the leaders at the Public Library been able to build such a loyal following?

Collins offered some reasons for the event’s popularity. “The key is to get the participants to buy into it and want to come in and be at the tables [booths],” said Collins. “The Library can set up the building, do the advertising, and do the logistical things, but if the groups don’t buy into it, it doesn’t work. And they do a huge amount of work and a spectacular job.”

Collins said that reading is the most important skill that a person ever learns. “If you can’t read today, forget it – you will not be a success,” said Collins.

“And it’s never too early for parents to start teaching their children how to read,” said Gay. “But not only teaching them to read, but to develop a love of reading.

Johnson said children and their families enjoy the fact that every table at Literacy Day has a different interactive, hands-on activity taking place.

Collins agreed with that assessement. “Each child does a circuit to each table and it’s just pure enjoyment,” said Collins.

“To make reading fun and interactive, that’s why this event is so successful,” said Simpson.

The event is free of charge and open to children and adults.

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