Variety Care looks to increase youth literacy 

click to enlarge Dr. Stewart visits with Tanner Parr as he picks out a book at Variety Care on SW 44th and Walker.Photo/Shannon Cornman - SHANNON CORNMAN
  • Shannon Cornman
  • Dr. Stewart visits with Tanner Parr as he picks out a book at Variety Care on SW 44th and Walker.Photo/Shannon Cornman

Health organizations donate the gift of lifelong learning in the form of thousands of books and expanding other programs.

Variety Care, a nonprofit, family- based Oklahoma healthcare center, is working with Reach Out and Read to triple the number of clinics that will offer free books and literacy-rich environments to children.

To head up this initiative, Reach Out and Read, a nonprofit organization of medical providers that promotes early literacy, has donated more than 2,100 books to Variety Care’s pediatric patients up to age 5 at locations in Oklahoma City, Norman, Tipton, Grandfield, Fort Cobb and Thomas.

Variety Care is working to more than triple the number of sites that offer free books to children and double their capacity to serve within the next year, according to Kyle Stewart, Variety Care director of pediatric medicine. The local family health center will reach these goals through book donations, hiring more doctors and opening more sites.

“Parents obviously really appreciate [the program]. Kids love it. The cool side is that it is evidence- based; it’s not just a feel-good thing. It’s not just something that we assume works,” Stewart said. “There have been very well-designed studies on this intervention, and it has shown literacy development.”

Stewart believes in teaching parents ways to develop literacy-rich environments for their children to thrive in by making books readily available. These environments encourage children to explore, discover and learn during the early years of their lives so they can enter the school system with pre-literacy skills and early socialization skills, he said.

Variety Care also participates in programs like Early Birds, which offers classes three times a year for parents and advises them how to be more effective teachers to their kids. The classes are for expectant first- time parents and those with children up to 5 years old, and each family receives a free bag of books and toys for attending.

“So it’s just another avenue of ... celebrating the parent as the primary educator,” Stewart said. “It’s not trying to assert putting the schools or clinics into some leadership role that they’re not meant to be in. It’s really the opposite: trying to undergird parents and give them the support that they desire to be excellent teachers and parents to their kids.”

Variety Care centers help many underserved patients, including those on SoonerCare (Oklahoma Medicaid) or without insurance. With help from its donors, the healthcare center is able to give all 65,000 of its patients the same standard of care. It’s the center’s goal to make healthcare available and affordable for everyone.

In 2013, Variety Care received the patient-centered medical home accreditation of Tier 3, the highest possible, from the National Committee for Quality Assurance, an organization that quantifies the strength of the medical home provided by healthcare centers. “Healthcare is really trying to reorient itself around actually serving patient needs,” Stewart said.

Other options for youth

Novo Ministries P.O. Box 627 209-9765

What it offers: A faith-based organization that holds weekly afternoon and evening programs like Bible club for elementary- age children in partnership with local churches and organizations. Mission: To bring real and lasting life changes to inner-city communities. Serving 17 program sites in the OKC area.

For more information or a map of program sites, visit

Early Birds: A Smart Start Central Oklahoma Program Smart Start Central Oklahoma 2401 NW 115th Terrace, Building G 286-2734 ext. 301

What it offers: A family-based, free school readiness program to arm parents with information and activities to use with their children from birth to age 5.

Mission: To equip parents to provide their children with opportunities for positive early learning experiences.

Serving four Oklahoma County school districts. For more information or to view a list of available classes, visit

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