A Hollywood A-lister promotes childhood literacy in Kentucky

FRANKFORT – Actress Jennifer Garner spoke to the state Senate and House committees today on the success of early childhood education programs ran by Save the Children, a nonprofit that first began working with the state’s youth during the Great Depression in Harlan County.

“Thank you so much for having me. It is so wonderful to be back in Kentucky. It is painful to be so close to home and not go visit … my little sister and parents,” said Garner, who grew up in West Virginia where her family still resides.

“I’m here because I believe so much in Save the Children’s early childhood programs, and I hope you will continue to support them. Certainly, what you are doing here in Kentucky, you are doing right.”

Garner, an ambassador for Save the Children, said she wanted to highlight the nonprofit’s success in Kentucky during this tight budget environment. Legislative leaders have said a challenge facing them this session is to craft a 24-month budget while trying to stabilize public retirement systems that have billions of dollars in outstanding obligations.

Testifying alongside Garner was Mark K. Shriver, the president of the Save the Children Action Network, which is a program that works to mobilize Americans to end preventable maternal and newborn child deaths globally and to ensure every child in American has access to a high quality education.

“We are spending over $10 million here in Kentucky to match the $1 million the state has invested in our work,” said Shriver, who previously served eight years in the Maryland legislature.

He said Save the Children currently partners with 31 sites in eight counties, serving 11,154 children in Kentucky. Literacy improvement among program participants was equivalent to an additional 5.7 months of schooling, according to information provided to the Senate Education Committee, and 80 percent of 3-year-olds in the nonprofit’s Early Steps program scored at or about the national range for vocabulary acquisition.

“Our biggest office in the country is in Berea,” said Shriver, adding that the nonprofit has over 300 staff members working full and part time in Kentucky with more than 200 of them stationed in Eastern Kentucky. “Our results here are the best in any state in the union.”

Sen. Jared Carpenter, R-Berea, said the nonprofit recently held one of its board meeting at the historic Boone Tavern Hotel & Restaurant of Berea College.

“A lot of the people who work in your office are really close friends of mine,” Carpenter said to Shriver during this morning’s Senate Education Committee meeting. “I see them at the store, so I know the work your organization does and the investment and return on dollars. Any time we as Kentuckians can spend a million dollars and get a $10 million return is an excellent return on our dollar. We appreciate you having an office in Berea, and we appreciate the work you do across the commonwealth.”

Rep. Rita Smart, D-Richmond, said during this morning’s House Appropriations and Revenue Committee meeting that Save the Children’s efforts are needed.

“For 32 years as a county extension agent I was aware of the wonderful work that Save the Children does, and we did similar work,” Smart said. “And everything that you said was exactly the way it is. I visited many of those homes…and the collaboration with groups such as yours is much needed.”

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