Rhonda Brain, founder of Australia’s Paint the Town Read scheme, now takes the PTTR message to other towns across New South Wales and beyond.
“When I share our scheme with communities, I always remind them that we have been going for a long time, so they shouldn’t be daunted by the amount of things we do….Other towns may use as many or as few of our strategies as they like: they’re a springboard.”
A number of the communities have adopted the idea of a reading mascot, and most run a Community Reading Day, but as Rhonda puts it, “on the whole, committees take on the concept and run with it! The concept is THE biggest “engenderer” of creative and fun ideas, I have ever come across….PTTR committees are always amazed and excited at how the ideas will flow…”
For example – in Toongabbie, New South Wales, the Portico Plaza shopping centre worked with local authorities at Holroyd City Council this year to run storytelling and craft sessions for children, hosted by local reading mascot Poppy the Possum.
|‘Poppy the Possum’ in Holroyd, NSW encourages the community to ‘Paint the Town Read’|
Diane Hacking of Portico Plaza explains why the staff and management were so keen to get behind the scheme:
“We’re a small neighbourhood centre, and the majority of our shoppers are families. We had no hesitation in helping local children to get a good start, giving them a chance to be better educated, and hopefully to secure a good job later in life. Many of them will grow up to be the teenagers, mothers and fathers who we serve here at Portico Plaza.”
The fun-filled events run by PTTR committees are fuelled by grassroots passion, but based in the latest scholarship on language development.
“There’s a plethora of research now on the brain’s need for stimulus for language development, from birth right up to age five,” says Rhonda Brain. “But it’s of little use if parents near hear of it….so, our motto is RESEARCH SAYS IT, WE SPREAD IT! In a creative, fun-filled, celebratory way.”
Rhonda sees a profound impact in this apparently light-hearted approach: “When something is celebrated, it is given value. We create a climate of wanting to read…with the whole community owning the project, from the mayor to the schools, businesses, parents, maternity wards, police, and beyond!”
Rhonda is emphatic that such a project serves the whole community, not just infants:
“We’ve seen the huge impact such a project can have on building social capacity and connectiveness – addressing our 3 basic emotional needs: to have a sense of belonging; a sense of worth and a sense of competency; relationships – not to mention the positive impact it could have on the economy…”
In 2010, PTTR continues to spread from town to town and Rhonda is now lobbying the government of New South Wales to adopt it as an official scheme.
‘Whether they do or they don’t, it’s happening, spreading like wildfire from town to town’ she says. ‘I would love to hold a book relay across New South Wales…and then Australia. One day we hope to have Australians celebrating literacy at the same level we celebrate sport – wouldn’t THAT be something!’