Bright Spots are written and produced by the Campaign to showcase the work in Grade-Level Reading communities to make progress on school readiness, school attendance and summer learning by 2016. Continue reading below or download a PDF version.

At a small rural health center in northeast Oregon’s Wallowa County, young children and their families browse through the waiting room’s lending library, connect to a home visitation program and leave with a free book.

These activities are designed to promote a child’s healthy development, early literacy and school readiness and are the result of a partnership between two local nonprofits — Winding Waters Clinic and Building Healthy Families (BHF), which provides family support and education programs to low-income families.

In 2013, Maria Weer, executive director of BHF, and Dr. Liz Powers, of Winding Waters, spearheaded the partnership. We wrapped our brains around how we could encourage early literacy and positive parenting,” says Weer, whose organization leads the local grade-level reading campaign.

The partnership benefits both organizations — and young children. For example, BHF staff are located with clinic staff at the clinic’s front desk and administer the Ages and Stages Questionnaire (ASQ), a developmental and social-emotional screening, to about 200 patients under age 5. BHF staff flag families and clinic staff if a child might benefit from more support, which parents often can learn to provide at home.

The ASQ helps reduce the number of children with undetected and untreated developmental delays. In the rare instance when severe persistent developmental issues are identified, the child is referred to the local early intervention program. Exact numbers are hard to come by, in determining the impact of screening, but during one month in early 2015, the clinic referred two children to early intervention.

Having BHF staff on site also means clinic staff can introduce them to families. “Being able to bring that support into the exam room is huge," Powers says. “That warm handoff, physically shaking the hand of BHF staff, makes the difference in whether or not people actually connect with services.”

Many children were arriving at the clinic with “risk factors but the follow-through wasn’t there. Now we’re there,” Weer says. “So if you don’t have any books in your house — ‘here are books.’ If you don’t have fine motor skills because you don’t have money for scissors —‘here are scissors, jumbo crayons and pencils.’”

Brainstorming led by the two women, both mothers of young children, has spurred other activities to support early literacy including a designated “book of the month” with a suggested activity that families can complete while waiting for their appointment or take home. The clinic’s four physicians and three paraprofessionals also participate in Reach Out and Read, the national effort by medical professionals to distribute books to parents of young children. 

Although some medical practices fear adding administrative burden, “these things can happen without cutting into visit or staff time with some problem solving,” Weer says. “Winding Waters has integrated parent education and early literacy into practice-wide systems.”

For example, when BHF materials were not always making it out of a storage closet, the procedure was changed. The clinic receptionist preparing for the day’s appointments now adds these age-appropriate well-child materials so both await patient and physician.

And these efforts are paying off, when measuring outcomes that matter. Surveys of Winding Waters’ patients evaluating their experiences via a consumer assessment found that between 2013 and 2014, the percentage reporting that they received parent education on health behaviors and injury/accident prevent rose from 40 to 63. For parent education around physical and emotional development, the percentage rose from 46 to 72.

“It takes creativity and the capacity to change,” says Powers. The partnership with BHF furthers the clinic’s work to promote not only health but also wellness by addressing social factors such as low literacy that “have way more impact on health, productivity and quality of life than anything we do in the medical field,” she adds. “Low literacy levels correlate with poor health outcomes. We see the consequences of low literacy not just in grade school but beyond.”

For more information, please contact Maria Weer at 541-426-9411 or Photos: Winding Waters Clinic; Publication date: Winter 2015To nominate a community to be featured as a Bright Spot, please contact Betsy Rubiner at

Does your community have a Healthy Readers component? If so, share your experience in the comments box!

 Want more? 

How Vero Beach, Florida teachers are not only learning new ways to teach students with dyslexia but also using the same approach to improve how they teach all students to read. 

How Cincinnati Ohio identifies and treats mothers with depression through Every Child Succeeds, a home visiting effort to foster more nurturing and stimulating interactions with their children and increase school readiness.

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Betsy Rubiner is a writer and senior consultant with the Campaign for Grade-Level Reading.

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  • Thanks for promoting this excellent example!
  • Such a timely topic for me personally. I'm working with a group of rural communities in Kansas preparing to join the Campaign, and a good part of their funding is likely to come from two foundations that have health as a major focus. Great ideas Wallowa County!
    • Great Mary - look forward to writing some Bright Spots about rural Kansas communities!
  • We are heartened to see the strong health and early learning connections developing in Wallowa County. Excited to share that learning with other Oregon communities.
  • This is an exciting example of how two community assets that address health and family wellbeing in a rural community can come together and build something greater than what they can do independently. And it demonstrates how, with some creative effort and collaboration, it is possible to integrate activities related to supporting wellness, identifying children's developmental and learning challenges and finding ways to address them, and engaging parents in the process. There is a lot from Wallowa County that may be amenable to adaptation in urban as well as other rural communities.
    • Thanks for the positive feedback! I agree, we all have a ton to learn from each other!
  • I'm always excited and eager to see what other rural areas are doing to tackle grade level reading. Excellent collaboration of efforts Wallowa County! I'm especially eager to introduce your 'book of the month' with our local clinic. Continue your great work and know that your inspiring others!
    • Thanks! Hope the "Book of the Month" works well! Let me know if I can help!
  • Community involvement is always a welcome sight when it comes to helping children and their parents. It just takes a paradigm shift in thinking when it comes to finding new ways to disseminate information in a non-threatening way. Having brochures readily available to parents and reading materials available for students is an easy fix. Offices just need to make sure there is someone designated as the one to make sure these things are replenished on a regular basis.
    • I agree! We found the health community to be a great, non-threatening way to get word out about programs!
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