“Come on, James!” she cried from the Mellow Mushroom parking lot. A crowd of about 10 other people joined in.
On Tuesday at noon, the United Way of East Central Alabama and the Calhoun County Chamber of Commerce welcomed the chamber “ambassador” back to Alabama with a celebration at the restaurant.
Starting in mid-January, O’Rear spent 30 days cycling about 1,233 miles on Florida’s historic Route A1A along the state’s Atlantic coast from Callahan to Key West to raise awareness about early childhood literacy and for the United Way of East Central Alabama’s Imagination Library. He named the trip, “A1A for United Way.”
Shannon Jenkins, the director of marketing and communications with the United Way of East Central Alabama, said his organization spends about $75,000 per year on the library program, which is $30 per child per year. There are currently 2,700 children signed up for the program in Calhoun County.
On Tuesday, O’Rear only rode down Davis Loop. He returned from his Florida trip last week by car. O’Rear said he and the United Way picked A1A from him to ride because of the romance of the route and also to bring awareness to northeast Alabama.
Any child, from a newborn to a 5-year-old, can be signed up for the program, Jenkins said. Those involved receive a new book each month for free until they turn 5. The first book a child receives is “The Little Engine that Could” by Watty Piper and the last book is “Look Out Kindergarten, Here I Come” by Nancy Carlson.
Jenkins said the United Way would like to see the Imagination Library continue, but the group needs money to keep the project going.
“One of the things we’re trying to get out to the public is that even though the program is free for us and our kids, it’s not free for the United Way,” Jenkins said.
According to Curtis Simpson, the director of the United Way of East Central Alabama, all the funding for the program comes from the United Way.
Janet Bavonese, head of the Department of Curriculum and Instruction at Jacksonville State University’s College of Education and Professional Studies, said early childhood reading programs pave the way for later success by helping children build knowledge about the world and learn vocabulary.
“These are all things that are very important when children come to school and they begin to read on their own and they begin to have to think critically, use context clues to figure things out, that type thing. If they’re lacking in some of those early literacy experiences it’s very difficult to fill that in,” she said. “Early literacy experiences are very, very important to children’s development.”
Jenkins had similar thoughts.
“Many times this is their first experience with letters, numbers, colors, shapes,” Jenkins said.
With Imagination Library, O’Rear said, books are sent to children, who get to keep them.
“We’re very fortunate to have it. We want to keep it. We want more people to be involved,” O’Rear said.
Those interested in signing their children up or donating to the United Way’s Imagination Library can visit their website at http://www.uweca.org/imagination-library/.
Staff writer Madasyn Czebiniak: 256-235-3546. On Twitter @MCzebiniak_Star.