Program Overview

Who Are We?

Ferst Readers is a public 501 (c) 3 nonprofit with the mission to "provide books for local communities to prepare preschool children for reading and learning success." Ferst Readers strives to improve early learning opportunities for every child regardless of income, race, religion or gender with the philosophy that any child who cannot read is at-risk. 

What Do We Do?

Ferst Readers was founded in 1999 to address the growing problem of children from low-income communities entering kindergarten without basic early literacy skills and school readiness, a preventable problem that has far-reaching impacts throughout students’ lives. The recipe for early school success is simple: start school with strong literacy skills. Ferst Readers’s recipe for encouraging early literacy development is even simpler. Ensure that children have developmentally-appropriate books in their home and provide parents with supportive material that reinforces the importance of early learning and encourages them to read frequently with their children.

Children registered for the Ferst Readers literacy program receive an age-appropriate book mailed to them at home every month until their fifth birthday. By mailing a new book every month along with supplemental material to foster a language-rich environment in the home, Ferst Readers upholds its commitment to provide early learning opportunities with the hope of breaking the cycle of poverty and illiteracy. Our vision is to afford the best chance to every child to succeed in school, and in life, and to help develop an educated, productive and competitive work force. 

Why Is Our Program Important?

  • 61% of low-income families do not have a single book suitable for a child.
  • The single most significant factor influencing a child’s early educational success is an introduction to books and being read to at home prior to beginning school.
  • Children who have not already developed some basic literacy practices when they enter school are three to four times more likely to drop out in later years.
  • The only behavior measure that correlates significantly with reading scores is the number of books in the home.
  • Children in welfare homes hear 32 million fewer words from birth to age four than children that live in professional homes.

Click here to go to our Literacy Statistics page.

  Our impact. At the local level, communities with a robust Ferst Readers program have seen:

  • Kindergarten readiness assessment scores rise significantly; in some cases as much as double;
  • Higher post-test gains for 1st grade students who were Ferst readers;
  • School-wide standardized reading scores increase by several percentage points each year as Ferst Readers graduates progress through the school system;
  • Increased awareness of the importance of developing early literacy skills - in the home, and throughout the community.

Click here to go to our Program Evaluation page.

The majority of the cost of the Ferst Readers program, $36 per year per child, is raised locally through donations from individuals, corporate sponsorships and foundation grants.  

How Do We Do It?

Community Action Teams , or CATs, are made up of dedicated volunteers who oversee and administer the program in each participating county/community. CATs may differ in composition from county to county, but five to ten members make up the core.  Naturally, the more diverse the CAT, the more successful it is at getting the message out, registering children, and gathering support for the program. The CATs are ultimately responsible for raising the majority of the funds needed for each child who participates in their program. This local involvement enables sustainability by creating a diverse funding base and building capacity at the community level around the important issue of literacy.

While the Ferst Readers program is open to all children regardless of income level, many participating communities target at-risk populations such as Early Head Start, Women, Infants and Children (WIC) and low-income neighborhoods for program registration. This is often driven by limited funding in the community. As funding increases, more children are eligible for enrollment.

Partner Action Teams, or PATs, are another way we are able to implement our program. PATs generally involve a specific donor group or designated funding that targets a specific group of children. This might be in the form of a grant award or a civic organization such as Rotary or Kiwanis that provides funding for a group of children they especially want to champion.  We have PATs that sponsor Early Head Start programs, daycare centers and children of residents in apartment complexes, to name a few.  

Currently, Ferst Readers supports programs in almost half of the counties in Georgia, with the goal to expand across Georgia – and beyond. Outside of Georgia, program expansion is underway in four states - Florida, Mississippi, Texas and Montana. 

Our Publishers  The Ferst Readers is proud of its partnership with two Georgia publishers – Peachtree Publisher and Our Rainbow Press – providing two thirds of our books annually. Harper Collins provides the final third.    


The development of emerging literacy skills in young children is too important to allow a 'wait and see' approach. Current research overwhelmingly supports the importance of facilitating early and emerging literacy skills in preschool-age children as a critical foundation for literacy development.

Paulson et al. (2004). The Effects of an Early Reading Curriculum on Language and Literacy Development of Head Start Children. Journal of Research in Childhood Education. 18(3)
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Thank you for visiting Ferst Readers!

Ensuring that children develop early literacy skills is one of the most important things we can do - as parents, as teachers - and as a society.

Won't you help us make a difference?

Adopt a reader today!   Make a Donation!