BHealthy Blog

Strong Foundations, Amazing Kids

A large white bookshelf filled with brightly colored children’s books sits in the corner of Dr. Julie Gardner’s office. Dr. Gardner is a pediatrician and an internal medicine physician at the Baptist Health Family Clinic-Dewitt

Reach Out and Read Program Helping with Child Development

Recently, Dr. Gardner established the first Reach Out and Read program in southeast Arkansas. Reach Out and Read is a national non-profit. The program helps develop speech and language skills for children beginning in the newborn period and extending until they enter school around kindergarten and first grade. The purpose is to prepare them for school and set them up for success.

Reach Out and Read locations are in local clinics across the United States. These clinics provide books for children whenever they come in for their well-child checkup, starting in the newborn period and going up until they’re six years of age. By the end of that period, kids have collected 10 to 12 books to add to their home library.

Baptist Health supports early childhood education. We know that creating a solid foundation leads to healthier amazing kids.

“One great aspect of the program is it is more than a book program,” said Dr. Gardner. “The program is about evaluating the child’s development, communicating with them, and teaching them language skills. We also counsel and teach parents about the importance of reading.” 

By screening for developmental milestones, she can identify kids who have language delays earlier and help them get back on track faster. Dr. Gardner first learned about the Reach Out and Read program during her residency and was impressed.

“I couldn’t really imagine going into practice without it,” said Dr. Gardner. “You kind of get used to having the book and going into the room and the child’s face lighting up and the parent’s face lighting up and using that for your developmental evaluation.” 

The program is a fun experience for everyone. 

“Parents enjoy it, the kids enjoy it, providers enjoy it. It encourages people to come into the clinic so we can do these well-child checkups, and then we can use it to see the child’s skill level and to see if they are delayed and get them plugged in early for therapy,” said Dr. Gardner.

WM Foundation Supporting Arkansas County

Dr. Gardner can provide free books to her patients because their clinic receives support from the WM Foundation. The foundation was co-founded by Dr. Gardner and her husband in memory of their late son William. The mission of WM Foundation is to share Christ-like love in Arkansas County, the community where William would have grown.

“This is just one of the services the WM Foundation provides. We began providing books at our Dewitt clinic, but I would love to be able to spread the outreach to our other clinics in Arkansas county. We are so grateful for our generous donors who support us,” said Dr. Gardner.

WM Foundation also supports Hope of the Delta in Stuttgart, a local Pregnancy Care Center, and Restoration of Hope, a local domestic violence shelter, as well as partners with Easter Seals, a local child developmental center.

Dr. Gardner has taken on the extra responsibilities of running a foundation because “It’s really my joy. I feel close to my son William when I do it.”

A Team of Experts

To be a Reach Out and Read site, you must be certified through the national Reach Out and Read organization. It requires applying online and completing mandatory training for all providers at Reach Out and Read clinics. Dr. Gardner and the clinic’s nurse practitioner, Laura Hannum, have completed that training, which helped them recognize that this is a unique program.

In addition to Dr. Gardner and Hannum, Laura Hope, Karen McKewen, registered nurses, and Jann Hopson round out the team at the Baptist Health Family Clinic-Dewitt.  

“My staff is awesome,” said Dr. Gardner. “We all work together to help take care of these kids every time they come in for well-child checkups to make sure that they’re getting everything they need and part of that is development.”

To schedule a well-child checkup at Baptist Health Family Clinic-DeWitt, call (870) 946-0300.

More About the Reach Out and Read Program

The Reach Out and Read program provides families with the support they need for healthier childhood development through reading. They provide parents with more than just resources; they provide them training on how to make reading aloud a daily routine so that their children can benefit from its lifelong effects. Furthermore, the knowledgeable staff advise families about literacy’s significance and present books as an avenue of exploration into the world! 

The Reach Out and Read Program is the only national pediatric literacy model endorsed by the American Academy of Pediatrics. Learn more about Reach Out & Read today.

To donate or to learn more about the WM Foundation, please visit