EatPlayGrow and Reach Out and Read Deliver Results

Written by Cheryl Gage, AmeriCorps member serving with Cherry Health AmeriCorps

My desire is to teach others to read. This desire led me first to Michigan Education Corps last year, and to Cherry Health AmeriCorps’ health education team this year.

Since the COVID-19 pandemic, we had to get creative on how our programming could still reach its targeted audiences. After brainstorming, we decided to reach out to new EatPlayGrow participants while simultaneously serving Reach Out and Read wellness visit patients.

Thinking in a brand-new way, I created delivery routes to patients’ homes, loaded up staff vehicles, and hit the road! Upon arriving, I either hung our black totes with the bright red Cherry Health logo on the doorknob, or I was lucky to see families who were actually home!

Sometimes I heard shushing, footsteps freezing in place, and I thought that was funny. I imagined the people inside saying, who was this unknown woman with the name badge knocking on my door?

If they answered, I would hold up the bag, logo side facing them, and say, “I’m from Cherry Health!” Some faces were suspicious, but more often suspicions softened into smiles.

Smiling back, I would say, “This is for the wellness check patient in your home. A book, a craft activity, and an invitation to join us for EatPlayGrow online!”

Continuing my route, I arrived at an apartment complex that was quite large. I had a hard time locating the individual’s apartment, so I got out of my car and set off on foot.

I approached a group of neighbors chatting loudly back and forth between two of the buildings. I explained my quest and asked a woman in hospital scrubs where I needed to go. She told me I was there; I had found her. I showed her the Cherry Health logo and right away she smiled.

She and I walked together toward the door of her building and I rattled off the contents inside the bag:

“I have a "Reach Out and Read" book that would have come with your child’s last wellness check if COVID-19 hadn’t messed up our routine.”

“Thank you!” she said.

“I have a craft project for the kids with instructions, but you’ll want to supervise that.”

“Thank you!” she said.

“I have an invitation to join us for an online version of another program your child might love.”

“Thank you!” she replied.

She waited for me to look up at her.

She wanted me to hear her.

“Thank you,” she emphasized again.

I smiled back and said, “You’re very welcome!”

By this time, her daughter was peeking at me from their balcony. The woman introduced us.

I said, “Hey, guess what?! I came all the way here to give this to you! This is for you!”

The tiny girl half-smiled and looked at her mom, then me, then the bag.

I was thrilled! I’d made it!

From strategy to implementation, we had figured out how we could connect with the people who needed us the most. Especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.

And then I suddenly remembered. Oh, yeah! This is how I’m teaching someone to read!!

It was such a great moment, even if it didn’t look remarkable to anyone else but me. I saw our hard work leading right where it was supposed to.

What started as an experiment ended up making community connections at a time when they were needed the most. I am proud to be a part of AmeriCorps, but also Cherry Health because it’s clear just saying the name is enough to open doors, generate smiles, and bring relief to those who trust and depend on Cherry Health.

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