Prescribing literacy

Dr. Leora Mogilner, the medical director of Reach Out and Read of Greater New York, with Chelsea Clinton at a recent benefit for the nonprofit. Photo: Michael Wilson
Pediatrician Leora Mogilner oversees a local chapter of Reach Out and Read

As a pediatrician in the Division of General Pediatrics at Mount Sinai, Dr. Leora Mogilner brought Reach Out and Read, a national literacy nonprofit, there in 1998. When children come in for a pediatric visit, starting as newborns, they are given a brand new developmentally and culturally appropriate book to take home.

The Upper East Side resident also serves as the medical director of Reach Out and Read of Greater New York, which recently marked 20 years of serving the city’s most underserved communities with the tools of literacy. On June 5, at the Loeb Boathouse in Central Park, she was honored for her work with the program, which includes helping the organization grow from serving only 18 sites in 2000 to now 275,000 kids yearly at 223 sites.

How did you first learn about Reach Out and Read?

I had heard about it from a colleague who heard about it at an American Academy of Pediatrics meeting. And I thought it was a fantastic idea. Basically the idea is that you teach parents about the importance of reading to their children from the time they’re babies. And we give out brand new books. Their parents are taught about how important it is to reach to their children. And we also have volunteers in the waiting room who read to kids and model reading aloud for parents.

Is it geared towards a certain demographic?

Everyone who comes to our clinic participates in the program. I will say that in the New York City area, there are hundreds of programs and the majority of them are located in clinics that are serving underserved populations. While reading and sharing books from birth is important for everyone of every demographic, we’re especially focused on children who are growing up in poverty, who may not have access to this information and the resources, like books.

Where do you get the books from? Who do you partner with?

We run books drives every year. We have generous donors who donate money. The Reach Out and Read coalition of Greater New York provides some funding to each of their programs, so we get some of our book budget from them. Some of it we fundraise on our own. There’s also the National Reach Out and Read program, so we’re also eligible to get books through the national program. So we piece it together. We also partner with our local Barnes & Noble. They’ve done an amazing job running book drives and fairs for us, which have been wonderful.

How have you grown the program?

We now give out books at every well visit, starting with the newborn visit. So we used to start at six months, and now we start with the first visit. And we actually now give out books in the hospital, before a baby is discharged. So that’s a new innovation in the last year in the well nursery before mom goes home at Mount Sinai, she gets a brand new book to share with her baby and advice about things she can do with her baby and the book. It’s not just reading the book to them, but it’s using it as a proxy, a way for a child to hear their parents’ language. But it also gives parents and children something to bond over.

What does your job as medical director of Reach Out and Read of Greater New York entail?

I train staff at other clinics; I’ve made training videos. I go to different sites to train other practitioners and help consult with different organizations to ensure that our programs are giving the highest quality of care that they can give.

What is vision for the future of the program?

We would ultimately like to ensure that we have funding so that every child who goes to the doctor for a well visit is able to leave with a brand new book they’re excited about. And parents get information they need to make reading and sharing books a part of their children’s lives. I would love to see this at every clinic and every practice in New York City.