CHICAGO – First Lady Patti Blagojevich joined Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White, Chicago Alderman Edward M. Burke, and over 100 students from St. Bruno Elementary School to dedicate Illinois’ first “Reading Park” at Catalpa Park in Chicago. The reading park will feature special reading nooks, benches, and thousands of new trees and flowers to create an inviting space for children to read. Chicago was one of nine cities selected for creation of a community reading garden by Troy-Bilt, a supplier of lawn and garden equipment and a national sponsor of the Keep America Beautiful Great American Cleanup program.
“Reading with your children can have a tremendous impact on both their mental and emotional development,” said Mrs. Blagojevich. “This beautiful reading park will help children and families enjoy reading together even more. I commend everyone involved in this project, and encourage all parents to make an extra effort to sit down with their children and read as often as possible.”
At the park, the First Lady read excerpts from two books in her Children’s Reading Club, “Number the Stars” by Lois Lowry, which is this month’s Children’s Reading Club selection, and “The Secret Garden” by Frances Hodgson Burnett. Troy-Bilt gave a book to every child in the audience and also donated books to St. Bruno Elementary School. State Senator Martin Sandoval, State Representative Robert Molaro, Chief Operating Officer for the Chicago Parks District Jim Chronis and WGN TV’s Ann Belaval were also on hand for the dedication.
“We commend everyone for participating today, and we think this will be a good educational environment for everyone,” said Secretary of State Jesse White, who is also the state’s Chief Librarian. “We are delighted to help dedicate this park, and thrilled that the First Lady could participate today.”
“We are honored that our city has been selected as one of nine American cities to a receive such a gift, all made possible through the generosity of Troy-Bilt, a remarkable family-owned manufacturer whose love of reading and love of gardens has no rival,” said Ald. Burke (14th Ward). “We are especially honored that First Lady Patti Blagojevich, who has championed reading among children across Illinois, is with us here today to re-dedicate this park designed to promote reading amongst youngsters. We hope that this green space will stand as a symbol of what education and reading can do to advance the future of our children.”
The Troy-Bilt community reading gardens are designed and created by the Troy-Bilt Landscapes America team. The first community reading garden took root in hurricane-ravaged Biloxi, Mississippi, and others are being built in Atlanta, Baltimore, Charlotte, Cleveland, Dallas, Louisville, and New York. Troy-Bilt is a national sponsor of the Keep America Beautiful Great American Cleanup program, which mobilizes millions of volunteers to improve their communities through hands-on participation.
Researchers have found that green space produces consistently positive results, from stronger social ties to better attention skills and less aggressive behavior.
“Beautiful spaces create beautiful minds,” said Heidi Ketvertis, Green Space Expert for Troy-Bilt. “A community garden brings people together and improves the environment. Gardens can be an enriching, stress-free zone. When a garden is devoted to reading, it adds the benefit of encouraging a love of books and learning.”
The Children’s Reading Club is a recommended reading list made up of books the First Lady and her daughters enjoy at home. The First Lady launched this literacy initiative program in February of 2005, and has selected books such as Charlotte’s Web, Harriet the Spy, and Maniac Magee for the recommended list. Each month’s book selection is featured on the First Lady’s website, http://www.illinois.gov/firstlady.
Mrs. Blagojevich began the Children’s Reading Club to encourage parents to read with their children and hopes the recommended list will enable parents to find books the whole family can enjoy. The Children’s Reading Club applies to all children, but specifically targets children between the ages of seven and twelve.
As First Lady, Patti Blagojevich has worked tirelessly to promote initiatives that help Illinois families bring up happy, healthy, and successful children. In addition to her work with children’s literacy, the First Lady spearheaded the Illinois Pediatric Vision Awareness Initiative, the first state sponsored campaign in the U.S. to specifically target Amblyopia, or ‘lazy eye’, in children. Mrs. Blagojevich has also brought attention to Healthy Families Illinois, a program that helps prevent child abuse by supporting high-risk parents. In addition, she has promoted the Prevention Development Resource Project, a partnership between the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) and Prevent Child Abuse Illinois, and the Governor’s landmark All Kids plan, which makes Illinois the only state in the nation to provide affordable, comprehensive health insurance for every uninsured child in the state.