The most recent graduates of the Leadership Harlan County United program embraced a project to encourage and improve reading skills for local children.
“The members of our group decided to address education needs in our community,” said Virginia Roberts, a registered nurse who manages the nursing staff on the fifth floor at Harlan ARH Hospital.
The five classmates include Roberts; Steven Brock, who manages the maintenance services at the hospital; Jennifer Brackett, an instructor in the Upward Bound Program at Southeast Kentucky Community and Technical College; Shelly Jones, the student success coach at the college; and Maggie Ashmore, who unfortunately had to relocate from the community for employment after completing the program.
“We contacted partners including Harlan’s Whitfield Public Library and the hospital volunteers,” Roberts said. “We wanted to present a book to every newborn at the hospital and provide new mothers with a list of 100 books you can and should read to your child before they enter Kindergarten.”
Since the first of February the group has given away between 75 and 80 books. The volunteers of the Harlan ARH Auxiliary embraced the project and provide ongoing dollars through gift shop sales and other fundraisers to cover the cost of purchasing the books.
“At first, I gave them out myself to every mother I could, but now the nurses on the hospital’s sixth floor help us out, too,” Robert said. “They make sure that each mother gets a book and they help us stress the importance of reading to their children every day, no matter how small.”
The book is titled “Read to Your Bunny” and it was produced by Rosemary Wells, a well-known writer and illustrator of children’s books since the 1970s. Among her successes are Noisy Nora, the Max and Ruby series, the McDuff series and the Yoko series. She has a total of 220 catalog records with the Library of Congress.
“The library also includes their list of planned activities so that new mothers can know what’s available to them and their children,” Roberts said. “We want to do everything we can to encourage and promote healthy, active and creative children.
“As a small work group within the larger leadership class, we thought this was the best way we could apply our skills to do something to benefit the community,” she added.
Leadership Harlan County United was created in 1997 and operated through Southeast KCTCS in coordination with a community partnership involving the hospital, the Harlan County Board of Education, the Harlan County Extension Service, and others.
The program includes “academies” to bring participants into direct contact with decision makers in government, the economy, education, and the environment. It is more than a series of seminars because it creates vision-to-action process, according to Jeremy Williams, county extension agent for agriculture and a coordinator of the leadership program.
“Each group of participants develops an action plan for addressing a community problem the group decides is important,” Williams said. “These action plans are used to implement a project in the county to improve people’s lives.”
For some already in leadership roles, the program expands their ability to be useful. The program also taps many people who are leaders in civic clubs and churches but who may not have thought of themselves as countywide leaders.
“It takes people working together to get anything done,” Williams added. “With the current economic climate in our community, we must work together as never before to keep people here. We can solve our problems together if we will just work together, and that’s the lesson we hope everyone takes away from this leadership program.”