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Archives: Sports
Updated: Wednesday, June 9, 2004 2:37 PM EDT

Lisa Knipper, director of the Racing to Read program, enjoys story time with Kenton County preschoolers. A 5K to benefit the program will be held June 5.

Photo courtesy Racing to Read

Up to Speed on Reading

COVINGTON When your trademark is a NASCAR-inspired RV, a good way to get the word out about what you do is a race.

The Kenton County Library's Racing to Read 5K hopes to raise some money, and a lot of awareness, about this educational program that serves preschool children in the Kenton County area.

"We visit 33 daycares, preschools and Head Starts in Kenton County," says Lisa Knipper, director of children's outreach at the Kenton County Library. But that's only about half of what the full-time staffers want the program to accomplish.

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The RV, donated by the Covington Public Schools and retrofitted to resemble a NASCAR racer with funds from Covington-based Ashland Inc., brings books and other learning materials to area preschools once a month. The three staffers alternate jobs at the schools heading up story times, complete with music, flannel boards and puppets, or helping little readers choose and check out books. And keep those books for a month.

For Knipper, that meets one of the program's biggest goals kids taking books home to share with their families. Ashland, a major supporter of the program, has pushed for an increase in education in children from birth to age 5, citing the significance of early literature to brain development. Racing to Read also offers supplies to classroom teachers, from professional books on enrichment and curriculum to videos to use during circle times.

While the program exposes kids to books, and families to the benefits of early reading at school and at home, the general public still isn't aware of the program, unless they have preschool age children. But the race can change that.

"We can put it out there in the business community," says Knipper.

On Your Mark

So far, 76 people have pre-registered for the race, with more expected to sign up on race day, June 5. Though she is happy with that current turn out, Elaine Koenig, community relations specialist at the Kenton County Library, knows those numbers will improve.

"Most local races attract about 200 people," she says. "Hopefully more."

"A race is a good idea…the running community is very strong (in this area)," she says. Koenig feels that the 5K is an ideal way to increase awareness about the Racing to Read program, due to the amount of support found just within the racing community.

This new 5K was chosen by the Greater Cincinnati Running Club to be the "Race of the Month" for June. Mike Moyer, the club's president, explained that choice via an email.

"Most of the runs of the month are chosen because members are already directly involved." He credits Koenig, who ran competitively at Boone County High School and also at Northern Kentucky University, with the success of this initial run. "Racing to Read is guaranteed to be a great race, because unlike most races, (this one) is directed by a runner."

Moyer also thinks some might see a race as a great way to raise money, but don't have the ability to back it up. But Koenig, he feels, has the means and understanding to make the Racing to Read 5K a success. The involvement of the club, and its membership, helps. "We print about 350 newsletters and our ‘Run of the Month' gets a full color page mailed out to about 300 runners, " he continued in his email. Currently, about 16 percent of the running club's membership is from Northern Kentucky.

Revved About Reading

While the race can introduce the program to a larger number of people, the challenge of getting preschoolers ready to read remains the biggest challenge for the Racing to Read organization.

As Knipper and her co-workers, Tyler Sparks and Katy Slone, sign kids up for what she calls "their own branch of the library," she has noticed strong parental support. "Families don't have time to go to the library," says Knipper. "It's very popular, and we can't serve everybody we want to serve."

Eventually, Knipper would like to take the Racing to Read program to more preschoolers, including in-home daycares and housing projects. As it is, the program offers 80 story times a month, with almost 4000 times checked out during that time. Like many educational programs, Knipper would love to have more funding to support another vehicle and additional staff. And more time.

"We can't do all the places we want to go," says Knipper. But the 5K may get her closer.

The Racing to Read 5K is 9 a.m., June 5, 2004, at the Mary Ann Mongan Library, 502 Scott Boulevard, in Covington.

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