Barbara Bush was jogging in a Houston park thinking about how she could best contribute to the nation if she became first lady.
As the story goes, she realized many problems such as homelessness, crime, hunger and addiction could be alleviated if more people were able to read, write and comprehend language.
Today, many Georgia educators and nonprofit leaders credit Bush with raising the bar of literacy efforts across the state.
“Making literacy a key priority set an expectation,” said Arianne B. Weldon, director of the Get Georgia Reading Campaign, a statewide effort to get all children reading proficiently by the end of the third grade. “Literacy is a key to a successful society.”
Bush, the wife and mother of former presidents, died at her home in Texas Tuesday at age 92.
Since its founding, the foundation has raised and provided more than $110 million to help create or expand family literacy programs in the nation, according to its website.
Jackie Curtis, executive director of Communities in Schools of Laurens County, runs one such program. Curtis said Bush’s influence cannot be overstated.
In 2006, Curtis’ nonprofit received $65,000 to start a program for teenage mothers who had dropped out of high school. The program helped the teens earn their GEDs and provided childcare.
“I think history will prove that her impact on literacy was probably more far-reaching than her position as first lady and the mother of a president,” said Curtis.
Over the past several years, the foundation transitioned from a grant-making organization to funding innovative programs and strategies such as “Talk With Me Baby.”
In 2016, the Barbara Bush foundation made a $100,000 grant to the “Talk With Me Baby,” program developed at Emory University to launch its training toolkit nationally.
The partnership includes the Marcus Autism Center at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, Emory University’s Nell Hodgson Woodruff School of Nursing, Emory University School of Medicine, Atlanta Speech School, the Get Georgia Reading Campaign, the Georgia Department of Public Health, and the Georgia Department of Education.
Laura Hauser, literacy services officer at the DeKalb County Public Library, also praised Bush. The Barbara Bush Foundation named the library as one of the programs that it supported.
Bush successfully used “the platform she had to support literacy awareness,” said Hauser. “Literacy is more than reading. It’s the ability to write and speak in English and use math. It allows people to sustain themselves. It’s something we can all get behind.”
Studies have shown that the earlier children learn to read, write and comprehend, the greater their chances of graduating from high school, competing in the workplace and earning a living wage. It also gives them a solid foundation to learn other skill sets.
Bush served as honorary chair of the foundation until 2012, when she passed the leadership mantle to her daughter, Dorothy “Doro” Bush Koch.
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