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Release Date: January 24,2016

Two Hampton groups help children get head start on learning

Josh Reyes

Peninsula children in the early stages of their education are receiving help from two Hampton-based organizations. The Downtown Hampton Child Development Center and Mayor's Book Club emphasize reading to children to supplement what they learn in class or prepare them for when they start school.

The groups' efforts are supported in part by the Daily Press-Ferguson Holiday Fund — they both used donations from the fund to purchase books for children to bring home. The child development center and the Mayor's Book Club each received a portion of the $162,000 raised in 2014 at a ceremony Nov. 12 where donations were distributed to 21 greater Peninsula nonprofits.

The Downtown Hampton Child Development Center is a child care and early education service for Peninsula families with children ranging from 6 weeks to 4 years old. In order to accommodate families with lower incomes, tuition is charged based on a family's earnings.

"We have a diverse population with most families paying at the lower-end. We have lots of young families, people with multiple jobs or going to school," said Heather Livingston, executive director of the child development center.

Livingston said the most rewarding aspect of working for the center is helping families who need their services. She shared a story about an active duty military mother who had a family of seven kids. When she deployed, she enrolled her kids in the center.

"She called home, and her 3-year-old told her, 'Don't worry about me, mom. Ms. Baisley's got my back,'" Livingston said. The child's teacher knew the mother was deployed and took extra effort to care for that child.

"We're able to help keep parents and their families afloat."

The Mayor's Book Club supports children's education by reading to kids and providing books for them to bring home. Marcy Messick, coordinator of the book club, said the group works with about 4,000 children, in pre-k through first grade, every month. About 60 volunteers — including the mayor, city council members and business leaders — participate in the program as readers, Messick said.

"Every pre-schooler gets a book to bring home every month … and we read to every kindergarten and first grade classroom in Hampton," Messick said. Additionally, at the end of the school year, the book club provides 4,000 books for children to bring home during the summer.

A major goal of the club is for the children to learn to love reading and encourage their parents to read with them at home. Messick said many children receive their first book ever through the club.

"It's rewarding to give a child something they've never had," she said.

Messick and Livingston stressed the importance of early literacy and referenced a study describing the long-term detriment that reading below grade level in elementary school can have.

"If they're reading below grade level in third grade, it's likely they'll never catch up," Messick said.

She encouraged people to visit the book club website at and sign up to be a reader. Livingston also invited people to visit the child development center website at, where they could make donations, sign up to volunteer and learn about the organization.