Dr. Jay Berkelhamer is an important figure in the
history of Reach Out and Read Georgia, but also plays an
instrumental role as part of the National organization.
Dr. Berkelhamer is a former president of the
American Academy of Pediatrics and he sits on the National Board of
Reach Out and Read, Inc. as well as the local Reach Out and Read
Georgia Advisory Board.
Dr. Berkelhamer is so committed to the total
well-being of children that he also is on the board of the Georgia
Early Education Alliance for Ready Students (GEEARS), Camp Twin
Lakes, and Georgians for a Healthy Future. He's a trustee of the
America's Promise Alliance, he's the Health Council co-chair of The
United Way of Greater Atlanta and an Executive Committee
Member of the International Pediatric Association.
His involvement in Reach Out and Read dates back
to his days practicing at the University of Chicago in the early
"I was working in the pediatric clinic and
learned of Reach Out and Read in Boston. I was really was intrigued
by it. I saw the potential it had so I started a program in the
University of Chicago outpatient clinic."
Dr. Berkelhamer's support of the program
continued through a period of time working in Detroit and
eventually a move to Atlanta in 1999.
Dr. Berkelhamer reports having always been a fan
and supporter of the program. "It makes a lot of sense. It's very
consistent in terms of what doctors ought to be doing in counseling
He cites the three components of the Reach Out
and Read model as a comprehensive and holistic approach to
introducing the importance of early childhood literacy.
"Waiting rooms at doctor's offices and clinics
that employ the Reach Out and Read model have literacy-rich waiting
areas. The TV gets turned off. This is a passive tool," he says,
"it amuses children but it doesn't engage them.
Then the doctor counsels the parents on the
importance of reading together for optimal brain development," he
continues. "Then, the child is presented with the age-appropriate
new book to take home."
"Many of the families that come to a clinic or a
doctor's office they don't have access to these resources
otherwise. Over half of the children who live in Georgia get their
healthcare through medicaid. A new book is a small thing; but it's
a very precious thing."
After serving as president of the American
Academy of Pediatrics in 2006, Dr. Berkelhamer was asked to be on
the Board of Reach Out and Read in 2007, and has been serving on
the Board since.
In Georgia, Dr. Berkelhamer was anxious to be
supportive of the program as it grew rapidly. He worked with the
National organization to secure initial funding from the Arthur M.
Blank Family Foundation, which provided the resources to help
launch the state office and hire a state Executive Director.
"Amy Erickson [Reach Out and Read Georgia
Executive Director] has been extraordinary. Our reach has increased
dramatically under her leadership. I often work with her and
Dr. McFadden on our Georgia related
When asked why this cause is important to him,
Dr. Berkelhamer says, "My heart and soul is in doing what I can to
promote the health and well-being of all children. Having served so
many years as a pediatrician, I watched children from their
earliest moments. I realized learning is something that begins very
early, and now there is a lot of science that has proven that.
Engaging the parents in reading is one of the best ways to build a
child's vocabulary - children who get this kind of attention will
do much better when they enter pre-school and learn to read. The
love of reading and a love of books is something you can embed in
Consistent among the doctors and healthcare
providers we talk to, Dr. Berkelhamer reiterates the children's
enthusiasm for the program as well. Children come to the doctor's
office, get a book, and they are so excited. These are new books.
Many of these children come from homes that don't have such
When he looks at the work Reach Out and Read
Georgia has done, he's also quite rewarded by the enthusiasm new
doctors have regarding the program. "When new pediatricians come to
the clinic and they see Reach Out and Read in action, they have a
breakthrough. They see the magic of communication with the parent
and with the infant. It seems like they become excited they can be
the kind of doctor that facilitates that kind of
Dr. Berkelhamer's message to parents is also as
clear as it is encouraging, "I've told parents who seem concerned
that they don't read well that it's not about their reading skills.
They can go through and talk about the pictures and you will use
words you wouldn't use in normal conversation. Repeating and
reading the same book is joyful for the child - their brain is
getting wire up, it's creating connections - the repetition is
quite normal and quite good."
It's never too early to start reading together,
Dr. Berkelhamer reiterates. "Learning begins from the first day of
Looking forward, Dr. Berkelhamer would like to
see Reach Out and Read Georgia become a true standard of care in
the pediatric community. He'd like to see it become part of
reimbursements. Most of all, he'd like to see the reach of the
program expand to aid the somewhere between 250K-300K children in
Georgia who are growing up in circumstances of most need, who would
benefit from the program.