COURTESY KONA COMMUNITY HOSPITAL
Carlos CiFuentes and Marielos Montes showed off their new baby, Carlos Keala CiFuentes-Montes, born Jan. 1, the first baby of 2008 at Kona Community Hospital.
Kona hospital is starting point for life and reading for newborns
HILO » Marielos Montes, mother of the first baby of the year born at Kona Community Hospital, said she was "flattered" and "grateful" when she received a minilibrary of children's books following the Jan. 1 birth.
Coming from El Salvador, Montes, who formerly worked as a secretary, and her boyfriend Carlos CiFuentes, who works in construction, barely speak English.
"This will help our baby and help us learn English too," she said through an interpreter.
It's normal for the parents of the first baby of the year to be showered with presents now, but books for the family of every child born at the Kona hospital will continue through the year, thanks to efforts of a group of middle schools girls.
The gifts of six to 12 books per family are funded by the Cheerios Spoonfuls of Stories Book Program, working with the First Book National Book Bank, said hospital spokeswoman Emily Mendez-Bryant.
But the idea started four years ago with the Aloha Kids 4-H Club at Konawaena Middle School. Eleven girls making up the group were in the fifth and sixth grades then.
"We thought it would be good to start reading at a younger age," said current 4-H President Carli Yamamoto, now in the 10th grade.
They were aware of the poor reading skills of some of their fellow students at the school, she said.
So the girls teamed up with the First Book program, which supplied books at wholesale prices. The girls got a $1,000 grant from Young Bros. shipping company to buy the books and started distributing one book per child to every family having a baby at the Kona hospital.
With about 500 babies born at the hospital every year, a hospital representative did the distribution, rather than the girls visiting every newborn.
Last year, Cheerios asked First Book to recommend just one agency distributing books in each state, and the Kona 4-H girls, now in the eighth through 10th grades, were picked to be the Hawaii representatives.
That meant that the number of books the girls distributed rose to as many as many as 12 per baby. The exact number varies, because if several babies are born on one day, there may not be enough books in stock to give an even dozen to each family, Mendez-Bryant said.
Since the Cheerios Spoonful of Stories started this year, the 4-H girls have given minilibraries to about 50 families with newborns, she said.
And first-of-the-year mother Montes, even if she can't read the books well to baby Carlos Keala CiFuentes-Montes, is looking at the books with him. Her favorite, she said, is the one showing a bunch of little animals getting ready for bed at night.