NaTasha McNeil remembers her first visits to Rock Hill Pediatrics with her preschool boys after the family relocated to Rock Hill. Their pediatrician brought out a children’s book and read a few pages to her youngest son.

Her son loved the book, and was eager to turn the pages.

“For me, it was awesome to see that that was a tool that was used to make a child feel comfortable,” said McNeil, the mother of two boys, ages 4 and 5. Her boys love books, and McNeil was pleased that reading was part of the office visit.

McNeil, a former preschool teacher in Rock Hill and a board member for the Early Learning Partnership of York County, reads daily with her children. They read in the car, she said, and they read to one another.

McNeil’s children received books at their well child visits through ELP’s Reach Out and Read program, which promotes reading and bonding between parents and children from birth to 5 years through pediatric medical providers across York County. Medical providers also talk about the benefits of reading and bonding.

Through ELP’s collaboration with the national ROR office and its ROR-Carolinas affiliate, ELP provides training and children’s books that are diverse and age and language appropriate. ELP also supports the medical team, which promotes bonding, early brain development, and a love of learning in young children and families.

McNeil, who founded a grassroots advocacy group called Moms Against Racism, also knows that it’s important for her children to see diversity in the books they read. She wants the boys to be exposed to children’s books that feature not only African-American characters, but also other culturally and racially diverse characters and stories.

Right now, ELP’s grant writing efforts are focusing on generating additional funding for ROR to purchase a variety of diverse books that reflect the variety of children and cultures being served by the program.

McNeil said she and her children have enjoyed reading a number of different culturally sound books, including those about Martin Luther King Jr., different inventors, some Spanish books, a book about Native American culture and sing-along books, among others.

“As a parent, for me, reading certain books was just as educational when you’re talking about diversity and reading about history,” she said. “Some of that, I didn’t even know myself. It was very exciting to be in that learning experience with them.”

McNeil, a vocal performer who also has a background in marketing and advertising, says she also wants her children to be aware that they have a variety of career opportunities. Reading is one way to expose them to that.

Her husband James, a former college basketball player who holds a doctorate and has worked in a variety of corporate roles, also serves as “a role model who can show them they don’t just have to go the sports route,” she said.

The important bonding benefits of parents and children reading together are another important aspect of ROR. McNeil said she loves reading to her boys, and now both children insist on that special time together.

“They expect me to read,” she said. “They always come to me if we don’t do it at the same time, because it’s a part of our routine. They will remember. If I walk out of the room, they are going to tell me, ‘Oh, we need to read our book.’”

Contact ELP if you have stories to share about your ROR experience at your pediatric practice.