The Ferst Foundation

By on February 14, 2014


Providing books for local communities to prepare all Georgia preschool children for reading and learning success


When I was a young girl, books were always a part of my world.  My family read to me from the time I was born.  When I was six years old, I was diagnosed with a hearing loss. As it became harder to communicate, I became an avid reader. Books gave me a confidence that I might not have otherwise known. They opened up a world of imagination and possibility that helped me face and overcome challenges. One of my favorite books is The Little Engine that Could. Although it was read to me hundreds of times, I never grew tired of the story. The lesson of the Little Blue Engine is that the first step to success is the belief that you can do it. Every book is an exciting adventure, planting the seeds for our children’s dreams of becoming farmers, doctors, inventors, dancers or teachers to Imagine the Possibilities that exist for each of us.    
—Robin Ferst

Entering school for the first time is an exciting time. However not all children are literacy-equal equal to their peers on that first day of school. Literacy begins early in life and by age three 85 percent of a child’s core brain structure is formed. A three-year old’s vocabulary development is a predictor of reading achievement by third grade. Often the reason for children lagging behind their peers in literacy is because they experience low literacy levels at home. This readiness gap persists, growing as children age. Figures show that 61 percent of low-income families are without books suitable to children and 35-40 percent of children are not prepared for kindergarten. Reading to a child makes a positive difference in those first critical years of life as related to school performance.

A non-profit organization, the Ferst Foundation promotes reading and learning success among Georgia’s youngest children by mailing free, age-appropriate books and parent-support material to children from birth to age five. With more than 680,000 children in Georgia under the age of five, the Ferst Foundation serves in excess of 25,000 each month. The foundation began mailing books in April 2000 and since that time 3.6 million books provided reading for young children.

Currently, the children of 70 Georgia counties are served with books mailed by the Ferst Foundation from its Read to Me Library. The lineup of books contains titles carefully selected by professionals with experience in childhood literacy, ensuring that the books which participants receive authentically support their education and development. Children and their parents also receive a newsletter each month with reading guides, a child activity page, and local information. The program is open to all children under the age of five in all the participating communities. Although the literacy program is free to the participants, there are nominal costs that are raised by local volunteers known as Community Action Teams (CATs) in each participating community. The CATs are also responsible for registration and the public relations for their community. All the money that is raised within each community remains in that community to cover the costs of their program.Early Reading Benefits Teaching children to read is often seen as the sole responsibility of our nation’s schools. For the most part, children’s success or failure in reading is seen as a function of the quality of their elementary education. Most kindergarten teachers would strongly disagree with these assumptions. Their experience reveals marked differences among children in their ability to learn, their familiarity with books and language, and their confidence level. In short, long before a child has experienced formalized education, there are already children far ahead of the curve and even more lagging far behind.

In a 1991 (Boyer) study, kindergarten teachers reported that 35% of the children arrive at school unprepared to learn. Playing “catch up” is a very difficult proposition both for the child and the teacher. A growing body of research now supports the experience of teachers. It suggests that from birth on the learning environment has a tremendous impact on the short and long-term reading capability of the child.

According to Karoly et al (1998), children develop much of their capacity to learn in the first three years of life, when their brains grow to 90% of their eventual adult weight. Start Early, Finish Strong, a Department of Education publication; emphasizes the importance of a child’s interaction with his/her environment rather than intelligence as a key factor in determining the ease with which a child will learn to read. The publication cites a National Research Council report that states, “Just as a child develops language skills long before being able to speak, the child also develops literacy skills long before being able to read.” Just what are these literacy skills? Letter names and shapes, associating sounds with letters, familiarity with books, associating reading with love and fun are all key areas of development. Dr. PerriKlass, Medical Director of Reach Out and Read, states, “With confidence, I tell parents to read to their children, secure in the knowledge that it will help their language development, help them be ready to read when the time comes, and help parents and children spend loving moments together.” The key is to start at birth.

Immersing a child in literacy can be a stronger predictor of literacy and academic achievement than family income. The more words a child hears, the larger the child’s vocabulary, and the more likely the child will be a proficient reader. However, in order to read with a child, books must be in the home. In a 1991 study by Needlman, parents given books by their doctor were four times more likely to read and share books with their children. This rate increased to eight times more likely with lower income parents. It is also instructive to examine the consequences of failing to build an adequate foundation for reading. The most stunning revelation is just how difficult it is to become a proficient reader if a child is trapped by initial difficulty. In a 1988 study, Juel found “…that 88% of children who have difficulty reading at the end of first grade display similar difficulties at the end of fourth grade.” Researchers at Yale discovered a similar trend. In their 1997 study, “…75% of students who are poor readers in the third grade will remain poor readers in high school.”

The Ferst Foundation cannot address all the issues of early literacy; however, we can eliminate one of the reasons why parents do not read to their child – the availability of quality books in the home. Books delivered not just once, but 60 times in the child’s critical years of development. Each delivery is wrapped in love and excitement and is another step toward helping children to arrive at kindergarten ready to learn.More Than a Book Beyond the book itself that a child receives, the goal of Ferst Foundation is to encourage parents and caregivers to become actively involved in their children’s literacy development by providing supplementary resources. Perhaps the most important of these is the newsletter included with each book sent out. These newsletters are tailored for the specific child, based on the book being mailed and the county to which it’s being sent. The newsletter offer discussion guides-tips for parents, activity pages, and local community announcements. The goal of the program is to get books to kids—and have someone read to them. If you choose to support this important aspect for childhood literacy, a contribution of only $28.00 supports the expense for a child for one year.

Ferst Foundation for Childhood Literacy is a 501©3 organization and is a 4-star charity at Donations and registrations can be made online at where you can designate your donation to a specific community. You can also make your donation directly to the following North Georgia participating communities: Cherokee County:  Cherokee County Ferst Foundation for Childhood Literacy, 3160 Misty Trace, Canton, GA 30114 Email:

This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. Dawson County: Dawson County Wee Books, PO Box 1883, Dawsonville, GA 30534 Email:

This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. Gilmer County: Kids Ferst in Gilmer County, PO Box 105, Ellijay, GA 30540 Email:

This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. Fannin County: Ferst Foundation of Fannin County, PO Box 2495, Blue Ridge, GA 30513 Email:

This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. Pickens County: Pickens Ferst Foundation for Childhood Literacy, PO Box 2062, Jasper, GA 30143 Email:

This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. Rabun County: Ferst Foundation of Childhood Literacy in Rabun County 837 Hwy 76 West, Suite 105, Clayton, GA 30525 Email:

This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. Union County: Union County Ferst Foundation, PO Box 2743, Blairsville, GA 30514 Email:

This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.   How to Get Involved with FERST Foundation There are several ways in which you can participate and get involved with the Ferst Foundation for Childhood Literacy! Start the Program in Your Community We are always looking for help to spread the word about our program and getting the program set up in new communities in Georgia. If you want to bring the program to your county, please contact us at

This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or call toll-free 1-888-565-0177. Volunteer Your Time & Expertise If you are interested in volunteering your time and skills, both the local community action teams and us here at the foundation in Madison, GA are always looking for assistance! This program would not be in existence if not for the help of volunteers such as yourself! Students Can Get Involved Too Students have always been great volunteers for us as well! So in response we have now set up a new initiative Ferst Foundation’s League of Extraordinary Students for elementary, middle school, high school and college students. AC Contact the FERST Foundation for Childhood Literacy: P.O. Box 1327 Madison, GA 30650 1-888-565-0177 info@ferstfoundation.orgThis email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.