August 31, 2021

Check-ups for children now come with books at Heartland Health Centers 

books with age ranges- reach out and read program

Photos: above, children’s checkups now come with books to take home at HHC-Lincoln Square and HHC-Wilson; below, representation matters! We’re grateful for our first donation to the program, from Young Black and Lit— a selection ranging from board books for infants and toddlers to chapter books for older readers, in which all children will see others who look like themselves. 

With many in Chicago and nearby suburbs heading back to school to hit the books this week, children and their families can now get something to read in a new location: the Lincoln Square and Wilson clinics of Heartland Health Centers.  

Providers have always discussed the importance of early reading, parent bonding, and decreased screen time. We’re making that easier by providing books to take home from your check up at the 2 sites through Reach Out & Read program, a national program started in Boston in 1989 to promote early childhood reading and literacy through the medical home.  

Access to reading and books can be a major challenge for the nonprofit health center’s nearly 30,000 patients, says Marcia Katz, MD, who sees children and adults at HHC-Lincoln Square. Katz notes that most of her patients earn less than the federal poverty level and many are relatively new immigrants or refugees in the U.S.   

She recalls a moment that inspired her to help bring Reach Out and Read to Heartland Health Centers: “During the developmental assessment of a well-child visit, I was asking a mother if she had books in the house, and if so, does her child enjoy looking at them? She, an immigrant from Rwanda, responded ‘where do you get books?’”  

The program is personal for Katz: she and her family gave $20,000 to endow Reach Out & Read at Heartland Health Centers, using funds their mother Nancy left to them when she passed away at age 93 in March 2020.  

Nancy Katz loved reading, literature and culture, Dr. Katz says. She recalls that her mother worked at bookstores on the North Shore including Kroch’s and Brentano’s in the Old Orchard Mall, where customers appreciated her spot-on book recommendations. “She was a voracious reader whose bedside table was always piled high with books, from horror (she loved Stephen King) to award-winning literature,” Katz says. 

Also leading Heartland Health Centers’ participation in Reach Out & Read is Michelle Phan, MD, a pediatrician at Heartland Health Centers’ Wilson clinic since 2019.  

“I participated in Reach Out and Read during residency and loved seeing how kids and parents lit up when we handed them a book in clinic,” Phan says. “It is a joy as provider to be able to give the gift of reading during a visit.”  

Also, Phan says, exposing kids to books at an early age is essential to healthy child development. “We know that there is a 30-million-word gap by the age of 3 between children in the highest and lowest socioeconomic levels,” Phan says. “Our patients at Heartland Health Centers may have additional barriers as many are immigrants, who may not know how to access libraries or other community resources like Dr. Katz mentioned. This program works to help narrow that gap.” 

Reach Out & Read reaches 4.5 million children a year. According to its evaluations, parents are 2.5 times more likely to read with their children when they see a provider who participates in the program, and kids who participate in the program have higher receptive and expressive language scores. 


books with covers- reach out and read programFirst donation of books from Young, Black & Lit

In addition to books from Reach Out and Read, earlier this month Heartland Health Centers also received a generous donation of books from the Chicago-based group Young, Black & Lit.

The donation ranges from board books for infants and toddlers to chapter books for older readers. It’s part of the organization’s mission to increase access to children’s books that center, reflect, and affirm the experiences of Black children. 

Due to COVID-19, Heartland Health Centers is not currently accepting personal book donations although that is expected in the future. Financial contributions to support the program can be made at