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When Linda Richter retired as an elementary school teacher in 2000 after three decades of teaching, she still wanted to help children educationally.

Piggybacking off of Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library, she and her husband Tim, also a retired teacher, founded a program that gives children age-appropriate books for free through age 5 to develop a positive association with books and reading right form the start. Richter says there is no exaggerating the importance of developing language skills and vocabulary at a very early age.

“It’s to get in the love of learning and the love of reading into them at a very early age,” Linda Richter said, “and that will help them so much in their education.”

Under the umbrella of a foundation to support the effort financially, the program started at Oakfield-Alabama and has expanded to Elba and Pavilion and the Richters have had discussions with Pembroke and Alexander.

Studies have widely shown that children from low-income, urban families greatly lag behind their more affluent, suburban counterparts in terms of vocabulary; but Richter says rural children can risk falling behind as well in comparison to suburban children.

“We (in Genesee County) don’t have some of the well-to-do people that maybe some of the outlying districts of Rochester and New York City have,” she said. “Also, to get any culture – we have our own culture here in Genesee County – but we also have Buffalo and Rochester. Some parents can get their kids there, but some don’t these days because of the economic situation. So this will give them some culture.”

There are no financial requirements to participate and no tax money goes to the program. More than 20,000 books have been distributed to children in Genesee County since 2004.

In the Elba District, the R.E.D Express program emphasizes the need to read aloud to children daily. Richter agrees that reading to children promotes bonding time with family members and that creating a print-rich environment in the first years of life means children are much more likely to learn to read on schedule.

To get your child involved, contact your local district.

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