Chris Taggart is one of those all-time great teachers. Not only did she choose teaching as her career for 26 years, but shortly after she retired, and was working with the University of South Carolina, she took a position as executive director of Born to Read, a local non-profit dedicated to showing new mothers how they could foster their children’s love of books and hence increase their early language skills.
“It was a natural fit for me,” she said. “I mean what’s not to like about helping mothers learn the importance of reading to their babies regularly? It’s a win-win for everybody — me included! And it’s not rocket science, just cuddling up with your little one and enjoying a book together.”
A native of Glasgow, Scotland, Taggart became a teacher, married a U.S. Marine and moved to the United States. For 26 years, she taught as an elementary teacher at schools sponsored by the Department of Defense. After she retired from teaching at Laurel Bay Schools, she was looking around for what she might want to do next.
When she heard about a new program in 2002 that promoted early literacy starting at birth, she was interested in finding out more. The program, called Born to Read, had just received private funding to hire a full time executive director. The minute the board members met Chris, they knew she was the right person to build this new, early literacy program.
“Born to Read offered everything I believe in,” said Chris. “Parents are the child’s first and best teachers. If we can teach new parents how important it is for them to read to their children daily, the children will be that much better prepared to learn at school.”
Her philosophy was recently confirmed in a paper published by the American Academy of Pediatrics, and touted in the national news. It stated the importance of reading and interacting with babies from birth, pointing out that the result is children who are ready to learn at every age.
“Of course, this makes perfect sense,” said Nancy Gilley, who chairs the Born to Read Board. “But, hearing that the American Academy of Pediatrics supports and encourages early literacy from birth just validates our assumptions and the need for our program.”
Twelve years and thousands of babies later, Taggart decided earlier this year it was time for someone else to take on the job of director of the program. In March, the Board accepted her resignation.
During her tenure as director of Born to Read, Taggart recruited a dedicated group of volunteers to visit new mothers in hospitals in Beaufort and Hilton Head. Once she had the opportunity to convey the purpose of the program, finding volunteers was not a problem.
“I’m really proud of these ladies,” Taggart said. “They are so dedicated to our mission. They make the program a success. Of course, all of our volunteers are important, but I feel these ladies deserve some sort of recognition for their dedication. They are true believers!”
In fact, four of the current volunteers at Beaufort Memorial — Corinne Hagood, Ginger Bolden, Anne Kennedy, and Liz Key — have been with the program since it started in 2002. A fifth original volunteer, Linda Priest, decided to leave at the same time Chris stepped down as executive director.
Happily, Chris isn’t leaving the program, but will stay on as a volunteer.
In April, the board hired her replacement, Terri Sassmann, formerly a volunteer coordinator at Children’s Hospital in Pittsburgh, PA, who recently moved to Bluffton.
“I really like her,” said Taggart. “I think the board did a good job finding someone to take this important program to the next level. And, I’m looking forward to her leadership.”
Since Sassmann took over the program, she has expanded the program to Coastal Carolina Hospital with the recent opening of their new Birthing Center.
“I had to hit the ground running,” she said. “I’m busy finding enough volunteers to be sure we can visit every mom who delivers their baby in Beaufort and Jasper counties.”
To learn more about Born to Read, or if you are interested in volunteering, you can contact Terri Sassmann at 843-379-3350, or visit their newly redesigned website at www.borntoread.org.