Innovative Early Learning Program for At-Risk Children to Launch in New Haven

Created by Save the Children, program includes home visits and school-based meetings

New Haven – An early literacy program designed by Save the Children for infants, young children and their families launches this fall in New Haven.

Early Steps to School Success-New Haven, funded and managed by the nonprofit Read to Grow, will work with at-risk families to help ensure their children enter kindergarten with the skills needed for success in school and beyond.

New Haven will be the only urban-based adaptation of a highly successful, rural program implemented by Save the Children in 2006.

In the Early Steps program, staff work from elementary schools and make home visits to voluntarily enrolled pregnant women and families with young children, newborn to age 5. Through regular home visits and book exchanges, Early Steps providers equip parents with skills to build a foundation of language and literacy skills for their children. Also, through supplemental parent-child group meetings at the schools, the program gives children opportunities to develop socially and emotionally with their peers, while fostering strong home-school connections.

In addition to helping disadvantaged children gain essential early learning skills, Early Steps increases knowledge among civic leaders and agencies about the needs of early childhood education.

Early Steps was established by Save the Children 12 years ago in some of America’s most impoverished rural areas. Today, Early Steps serves more than 90 rural communities in eight states, assisting about 5,760 young children.

Based in Branford, Read to Grow has operated 19 years in Connecticut, promoting early childhood literacy through two programs: Books for Babies and Books for Kids. Through partnerships with hospitals, community health centers and dozens of nonprofits, it has given more than 1.8 million children’s books and provided workshops and other literacy services to parents so they are prepared to be their children’s teachers, starting at birth.

For more information, please contact Read to Grow in Branford, CT: Kyn Tolson, executive director (; 203.488.6800), or Robin Baker, office manager (; 203.488.6800) 


Lessons about Babies’ Brains, Language Skills for Mothers-To-Be

Delivered through Prenatal Project

By Marguerite Alpert
Books for Babies Coordinator

Bruna Fortunato’s journeys from Brazil and to pregnancy have not been easy.

When the 25-year-old first came to this country four years ago to make a better life for herself, she struggled with learning a new language and keeping up with bills. She stayed less than a year. Once back in Brazil, however, Bruna realized that she wanted to make another go of it in the United States.

Shortly after her return to Connecticut in 2015, Bruna met her husband, Christian, a former Marine now enrolled in the Connecticut Police Academy. After much sadness over a failed first pregnancy, the couple are happily expecting their first child, a son, in early December.

Today Bruna is one of about 300 women receiving their obstetric care at Southwest Community Health Center in Bridgeport. The center is partnered with Read to Grow’s Prenatal Project, which means pregnant women receive information about early childhood literacy and new, free baby books. The OB patients learn about the importance of developing the language skills of babies and how parents are their children’s first teachers. With the new board books, they can create home libraries before their children are born.

Southwest is one of nine partnerships in our Prenatal Project. The others are with: Connecticut Children’s Medical Center in Hartford; Fair Haven Community Health Center and Cornell Scott Hill Health Corporation, both in New Haven; Women’s Center at Yale Primary Care Clinic in New Haven; First Choice Community Health Center in East Hartford; UCONN Health Nurturing Families Program in Farmington; Optimus Health Care in Bridgeport; and Norwalk Community Health Center in Norwalk.

Read to Grow staff continue to expand this work at other community health center.

Over the months, Bruna has jumped at the chance to learn about the best ways to prepare her baby for success. Even though she grew up with books and could read before kindergarten, she became aware through the Prenatal Project of just how early that learning begins.

“I am so happy to have this opportunity,” she said. “I never knew about a baby’s brain connections and how important it is to stimulate them by talking and reading and singing.”

Bruna also learned during a prenatal session that her baby could hear voices and other sounds at 20 weeks of gestation. “My baby can hear me right now!” she said. “It’s awesome. I also love that the books have two languages.”

The Fortunatos hope their son will eventually have command of not only English but also Bruna’s native Portuguese and Spanish, which Christian speaks.

Cathy Nucera, RN Coordinator at Southwest Community Health Center, said, “It’s so good to hear that what we do makes a difference in someone’s life. It gives us motivation to continue to give the message of literacy.”

Bruna already has three books ready for her son when he is born. In fact, she added, Christian is “already reading the Read to Grow books to Zachary (in the womb)!”

For her part, Bruna has cut down on her use of screens. After learning that screen time is not recommended for children under 2, she gave her tablet to her mother to avoid temptation. “I was on Facebook too much, and I want to avoid screens as much as I can for Zachary. For me, it’s a no-no!”

From the beginning of motherhood, she said, “I want to get this right.”


With Books in Hand …He works to Make Fathers & Mothers Good Role Models

Huwerl Thornton knows something about fatherhood.

And setting good examples.

And teaching and learning through books.

The 50-year-old has spent many years in classrooms, both as a student and then as an elementary school teacher for 14 years in New Haven. A champion of Read to Grow and its work for early childhood literacy, he’s now Youth Programs Coordinator for Connecticut Food Bank, which serves six of the state’s eight counties. He oversees its two special projects for young kids — the BackPack program and the GROW! Truck.                                                        

Read to Grow has been partnered with the GROW! Truck for four years. The truck—a large mobile food pantry—serves families with children in Head Start, giving them food, children’s books from Read to Grow, and workshops on topics ranging from childhood literacy to family-life management. Read to Grow staff gives the literacy workshops.      

“Being a black male and being a teacher and seeing how absent fathers are in so many children’s lives, I know how bad it is. Mothers are usually the rocks for the families. Fathers are so absent. If young boys can’t find role models in their homes, they’re going to start looking around in other places. They look out to the streets.”

Huwerl tries to make up for the holes in many young lives. He does it as a father and grandfather to his daughter’s two young girls, a 3-year-old and an 8-month-old. All three lived with him and his wife until recently. “Mistakes I realize I made with my own daughter, when she was young, I try not to do now. I don’t let TV fill the time. … I read to my granddaughter. I find books that tell her, ‘You’re not white, but you’re still beautiful’.”

Huwerl also fills the gaps by encouraging mothers who come for workshops and food provided by the GROW! Truck. He doles out free books from Read to Grow as they wait their turns outside the mobile pantry. “Make sure you have books around the house!” he calls out. “Turn off the TV!”

“The road to college attainment, higher wages and social mobility in the United States starts at birth,” says James Heckman, a Nobel-winning economist at the University of Chicago. “The greatest barrier to college education is not high tuitions or the risk of student debt; it’s in the skills children have when they first enter kindergarten.”

 (Taken from “Building Children’s Brains” by Nicholas Kristof, NY Times, June 2, 2016)

Huwerl came by his wisdom a hard way. The older of two boys in his family, he saw that his father was a provider. He worked hard on an assembly line and always brought home a paycheck. But, Huwerl says, his father fell short in other essential ways. “He was a weekend drinker, and he was an abuser.”

“Fatherhood is so important. It’s what you show your kids, and what you do with them. I know it’s real important for fathers to be positive reading models. … As I always used to tell my students, if you can find a job — any job — that doesn’t require reading, I’ll give you an A for the rest of your year.”

“So keep at it Read to Grow! … I’ll keep reading to my granddaughters, because the way you lead is the way the family is going to follow.”

At Read to Grow, we distribute about 190,000 books annually and regularly give bilingual literacy workshops through partnerships that include our collaboration with the GROW! Truck.

Now in our 19th year, we hope you’ll support us in promoting language skills and literacy for children, beginning at birth.

Here’s what gifts can do:

$30 = 12 new baby books for pregnant women at health centers
$60 = literacy packets for 8 mothers of newborns    $250 = GROW! Truck workshop & books
$125 = 2 summer books to each of 25 young schoolchildren
$175 = 70 new bilingual books for young children
$300 = 125 new multicultural books
$500 = 1 book for 200 kids at food pantry
$1,000 = 400 books for a BOOK PLACE                                      



The Great Give 2018

Now’s the time to support READ TO GROW during the 9th Annual Great Give.

This special online opportunity to help the charity of your choice begins at 8 a.m. May 1st and runs to 8 p.m. Wednesday, May 2nd.
Just click HERE.

READ TO GROW thanks you!

In our 19th year, we’ve given more than 1.7 million books to children in Connecticut.  We’ve given workshops so that families learn the simple but important ways to build their children’s language skills. We’ve formed more than 40 partnerships with other nonprofits to ensure our books and literacy information reach the children and families who need them most.


Read to Grow Winter Appeal Underway

Joy. Understanding. Knowledge. Opportunity.

All these–and much more–are the gifts of reading and books. While their values are immeasurable, we know their power begins with language skills and literacy. A parent sharing a book with a child might seem such a baby step toward reading. It isn’t. It makes a connection and a path to communication and comprehension. It leads to habits of sharing and learning and a way of life for a child and family that can truly shape a healthier community and society.

Small measures matter so much.

Today too many young children in families across Connecticut don’t have the books they need. Their parents don’t know the importance–and easy ways and heartfelt fun–of sharing books with their children from birth. Read to Grow strives to change that. We have:

  • given more than 1.6 million books;
  • reached more than 1 million children;
  • formed 46 formal partnerships with other nonprofits to reach and educate more at-risk families.

Please help us to make a greater difference.

Thank you. Best wishes for the holidays and the 2018 year.

To donate, click HERE.


Giving Tuesday November 28, 2017

Read to Grow welcomes gifts of time, donations and gently used books.

On this special day of the holiday season, let’s make our community strong together. Let’s help parents to learn about and practice daily habits that will build their children’s language skills and literacy.

To donate, click here.



Guests who had their photographs taken with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar at the benefit event for Read to Grow on May 17 at the College Street Music Hall in New Haven can view those photos by clicking HERE. The link will take you to a page on the website of Tricia Bohan Photography.

You can download your photo by clicking the download button.

We will be posting other photos taken at the event on our website by May 26th.

If you have any questions, please contact our office at 203.488.6800 and ask for Robin Baker or Kyn Tolson


Learn about the Great Give

Read to Grow is participating in The Great Give 2017,
an online giving event for nonprofits in the New Haven region.

For 36 hours, starting at 8 a.m. on May 2, 2017 and lasting until 8 p.m. on May 3,your charitable donation will make us eligible for thousands of dollars in prizes when you give to us through

Please visit to make a donation to Read to Grow.

Your online donation during these two days will mean more babies and children will get free books and more parents will learn about the importance of reading to their children!

Please join us in this wonderful period of giving!



‘Big Words to Little Me’

Sakina Ibrahim (right) with two girls in her workshop at Wexler-Grant in New Haven.

Sakina Ibrahim used her book “Big Words to Little Me” to present a workshop on self-esteem and affirmation to girls in fifth, sixth and seventh grades at Wexler-Grant Community School in New Haven on April 5.

The hit presentation was part of the New Haven Police Department’s Community Wellness campaign, spearheaded by police Sgt. Shafiq Abdussabur. 25 copies of “Big Words to Little Me” were purchased by Read to Grow for the special program.

Ibrahim is a writer and social entrepreneur. She is an NAACP Image Award nominee for Outstanding Literary Work for her debut book “Big Words to Little Me: Advice to the Younger Self.” She holds a Masters of Fine Arts from the University of California Irvine. She has worked as a dance educator while operating leadership and education programs with organizations such as the Dance Theatre of Harlem.


It’s Out of This World!

The New Haven Public Schools received 5,024 free copies of the hardcover “Galactic Hot Dogs” this April from Read to Grow.

The books were collected by Lauren Canalori, who is the Lead Literacy Teacher for students in kindergarten through 8th grade in the New Haven schools. She and others are working on a plan to give the book to all students in two grades at the end of this school year for a summer reading campaign.

Read to Grow is delighted to be part of this special promotion of books and reading for young children!