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Friday, Jan. 17, 2014

Girl Scout’s effort helps children get benefits from reading

Special to The Star

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It wasn’t long before children started to flock to the rainbow sprinkled reading corner.

Sitting before a bright yellow table emblazoned with a Dr. Seuss quote, the kids curled up on little red and green chairs, waiting patiently as Rachel Braun selected a book to read to them.

The scene this week has become a familiar one at the Johnson County Department of Health and Environment’s Olathe clinic waiting room. The walk-in clinic offers a variety of health services to Johnson County residents, including immunizations, physicals and testing.

Braun, a senior at Shawnee Mission West, recently redecorated the waiting room’s reading corner as part of her Gold Award project. The Gold Award is the highest honor in Girl Scouting.

For her project, Braun also held a book drive where she collected 175 new and gently used books from around her neighborhood. They will soon be donated to waiting rooms in clinics around the Kansas City area. The 17-year-old has also volunteered to read to children in the newly decorated reading corner.

“I wanted to do something that would benefit kids the rest of their lives,” Braun said. “Reading is so important to kids, especially before they’re 5 years old. It’s when their brain is developing the quickest.”

Her efforts are appreciated by the staff at Johnson County Department of Health and Environment, said agency director Lougene Marsh.

“We were so delighted when Rachel Braun wanted to use our reading corner for her Girl Scout Gold Award project,” Marsh said. “We had the area but we really think she has done so much to improve it and she has created a delightful space for children to read and be read to.”

She agrees with Braun that reading is a key tool for children 5 and under.

“Early literacy is a critical component of so many things, including school success,” Marsh said. “It is shocking to me to know that children that are regularly read to may enter kindergarten with a listening vocabulary of 20,000 words, compared to a child who hasn’t been regularly read to who has 3,000. So the opportunity for us to provide encouragement and support for early childhood literacy is great.”

In addition to promoting the benefits of reading, Braun said she also chose her project simply because she loves children.

Redecorating the reading area was hard work, she said, but also a lot of fun. She held a garage sale to raise money for a little red arm chair and little blue couch. She hoped to make the area bright and cheerful.

The Lenexa teen painted the table and chairs. Her dad helped her build a bookshelf. She carefully placed a Dr. Seuss quote on the wall.

Her hard work has earned her some young fans.

“I like the chairs because the colors are pretty,” said Zoey Caughron, a 7-year-old from Olathe. “And I really like Dr. Seuss. I liked her (Braun) reading to me because she was caring and nice.”

The positive feedback warms Braun’s heart.

“When the kids see the area, they’re happy, which makes me happy,” Braun said. “I get joy out of watching their faces when I read to them.”

Now that the hard work is over, Braun is looking forward to seeing it all pay off. She will be honored with her Gold Award at a Girl Scout ceremony in the spring.

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