KAILUA-KONA — Donna Monti believes reading is important, and she wants everyone to start as early as possible. For the babies being born at Kona Community Hospital, that head start begins before they even see the outside world for the first time.
Monti, a board member of Friends of the Libraries, Kona (FOLK), is head of the organization’s Books for Babies program, which provides parents of newborns with free board books to read to their child.
“I’m a former educator, and if you cannot read, it’s a disability. It’s truly a handicap,” Monti said. “And I’ve seen several studies where the largest predictor of lifelong reading is children who see their parents read or their parents read to them. And that’s an easy thing. So we give them these books.”
With Books for Babies, Monti brings to the hospital a bag with new children’s board books to promote literacy among the Big Island population.
The bag also includes literature with tips on raising a child for the parents and has an offer for a free children’s book from the library’s monthly book sales.
Monti said FOLK gives away about 50 books a month at Kona Community Hospital through Books for Babies.
“I think last time we loaded up bags, we had 175-225 books, and that’s a lot,” Monti said. “And the hospital is almost out, they are right at the end of their supply. And every three or four months we do this.”
On Friday, Books for Babies received a $1,000 check from Kona Elks Lodge to continue the program for the near future.
Kona Elks Lodge’s Roma Johnson, a former speech pathologist, said the Elks have become part of Books for Babies because the club wants to raise public awareness about the importance of early language development.
“It’s important to tell parents, when their baby comes into this world, you have to start now,” Johnson said. “You can’t wait until they’re 2 or 3 years old to start teaching them or helping them learn. The minute they’re born, you have to start interacting with them.”
FOLK also uses the money from the library’s book sales to support Books for Babies. Monti said the program has also been given a discount on board books in the past from Costco to help the program continue.
“I think this is a really important program, and I hope we can continue to have funding for it, because they’re awfully happy at the hospital to get these,” Monti said.
Monti’s mother was a librarian when Monti was growing up in Texas, and she remembers fondly her mother introducing her to a world of books, and how she was able to pass that on to her own five children.
It’s a gift she wants to give to the Big Island community as well.
“We really want to impress upon people the importance of reading,” Monti said. “Obviously math and science are important, too. But if you have not a dime, or you have chicken pox, or homebound for whatever reason, you can be anywhere with a book.
“I’ve been on Mars, I’ve been in Switzerland, and I’ve been in Africa, all through books.”