Sue Russell loves Painting the Town REaD
Sue Russell – Communities for Children and Child Care Services Taree and Districts Inc
Sue Russell is a dedicated early childhood professional who has decades of experience…but more than that she has a passion for the joy of reading with children and an understanding of all the benefits that brings to their wellbeing, learning and development.
That’s why Sue is a community champion driving the Paint the Town REaD initiative in Taree.
Sue has been working with Communities for Children since 2007, mainly under the Healthy Young Families and School Readiness programs, offering a range of parenting programs, extra parent support and Lego Group, a social skills development program run in schools.
As a former Director of pre-schools in the Mid Coast area for a number of years, Sue identified many gaps in the system where parents weren’t being supported well enough to find the services they needed for their families.
“When Communities for Children first came to our town I saw it as an opportunity to bridge the gap between families and the services they needed. It was also an opportunity to support families who were finding it difficult to navigate the systems and to find services.”
Sue says some of the gaps were around language…”we were all talking a different language and it was very hard for parents, especially parents that didn’t have any transport because they had to walk all over town, particularly if they had several appointments for their families.”
“There were lots of barriers for families that really needed extra support but instead of that support meshing together they almost slipped over the top and then parents feel like it’s not worth trying anymore so they give up.”
That was really my motivation for the work I’ve been doing in this space over the past decade.
“Curiosity and wonder can be created by reading a single book”
Another of Sue’s passions is early childhood literacy and the impact this has for ongoing educational outcomes and young people’s life choices further down the track.
In addressing these challenges, Sue’s philosophy was quite simple: “My goal was to read as many stories to children under five as I possibly could.”
But an added barrier in this area was the fact that a number of parents in the Mid Coast also struggle with reading. “So part of my passion is to convey to parents that to share a story and book with a child you don’t have to actually read the words. You can simply just look at the pictures and develop that closeness together without those words”.
“We have encouraged some of our families, as their children went to school, to also learn how to read and we’ve had some really good outcomes in this area.”
It was this passion for early literacy that led Sue to champion the Paint the Town REaD project to come to Taree and with determination over a number of years via Communities for Children Sue had a win and it’s now been up and running in our local community for the past year.
“I like the fact that Paint the Town REaD has so many applications. You can have a community event or work specifically with certain families….or you can simply just start reading to children and babies. People learn by experience and if they can see you’re enjoying it and the baby is enjoying it then families who might not have read stories in the past become interested.
For Sue, a highlight of the Paint the Town REaD initiative was the creation of the reading mascot Gracie when she was hatched from her egg at community event. “Gracie the Shark was inspired by the Biripi community, with the elders choosing our local totem to promote reading in the community. The shark is the totem of our Biripi people and to have Gracie the Shark as our Paint the Town REaD mascot all over town is a powerful statement for early literacy and a real celebration.”
Another component of the Paint the Town REaD program in Taree has been the roll out of the street libraries with the first launched at Taree Community Garden. “You don’t need money to buy the books, you just need to know where the street library locations are and you can take a book, you can return it or replace it with another book but we will keep the street libraries topped up regardless.”
Sue says the brightly red painted street libraries scattered around our Mid Coast towns and villages are a less intimidating option for some families who find the local public libraries a little too quite or overwhelming. “You don’t necessarily have to go into the main library now to borrow a book.”
A further extension of the Paint the Town REaD program has been to distribute library joining cards to families and the promotion of the Storytime sessions in the Library.
“It really is all about the love of reading and the joy and educational benefits of being read to and how that will influence your educational outcomes.” The grassroots approach to Paint the Town REaD has delivered some great outcomes for our community. “Lots of play groups and places where children gather have had the opportunity to not only read stories and have stories read to them but to have books in their own home.”
A joy for Sue is when children, having been given a book bag at a community event, come back and ask to swap it for another book. “All of that conversation around reading, getting excited about books and characters, what ifs and the imaginative play that comes as a result of reading books fills me with excitement and is a real bonus for me. Curiosity and a sense of wonder can be created by reading the most simple book.”
A vision for the future
Sue says her vision for the future of Paint the Town REaD and working with Mid Coast 4 Kids is that “everyone should catch the passion”, adding that the success for the project is heralded by very simple things that can say so much.
“Like recently when a young child picked up two books, looked at them and turned to me and said ‘I love Gruffalo and I love the Snail and the Whale…and they’re written by the same person’. So children have started to look at who the author is, who the illustrator is and we then talk about what an illustrator does. Sometimes the words and the pictures compliment one another and sometimes they’re a mismatch and all of that builds their imagination, a sense of wonder and fantasy….so I guess it’s the joy in the children’s faces when I see them making those discoveries.”
Why Sue works with Mid Coast 4 Kids
Sue says working with Mid Coast 4 Kids is the realisation of a dream she’s had for a long time which is about working in partnership. “You can only do a small amount individually but once we start working on the same outcomes, programs and projects then enthusiasm builds. For communities to change and develop we have to learn to work with each other. I think Mid Coast 4 Kids is probably a first in that way.”
Thank you Sue for all you do to support children in our community.