Dr. Stephanie Billings held out a picture book to a little boy in diapers. He snatched it from her hand and gleefully ran back to his mother, who read it to him as she waited for a medical appointment at the Holyoke Health Center.
The scene, a child being read to, is one Billings hopes to see repeated here countless times every day.
Nursing students from HCC have been helping with that effort, by reading to children during their clinical rotations and by donating hundreds of children's books they collected on campus as part of Reach Out and Read, a national program that promotes literacy by giving free books to children who come for checkups.
"The goal with every wellness visit is that every child gets to take a book home," said Alexander Pangborn, president of the HCC Nursing Club, which collected the books to fulfill the club's community service project. "It's a positive reinforcement for going and getting a checkup, but it also encourages literacy."
Pangborn and several other HCC nursing students and staff members delivered nearly 500 books to the Holyoke Health Center Friday. Billings said the Reach Out and Reach program directly supplies only about half the books the health center needs to fulfill its promise to give a free book to every child on a wellness visit, so the donation from HCC is especially welcome.
"We love when you come to read to our patients," said Billings, a family practice doctor, "and we can always use more books."
HCC has been sending nursing students to health centers for years to read to children. It's good for the children and models good behavior for parents. "Being literate is part of being healthy," said Lorena Florek, HCC pediatric nursing instructor. "Reading is a developmental task, just like learning to walk upstairs and learning to pile up blocks."
During their clinical assignments, nursing students go into the waiting room whenever they have some down time. Pangborn said children there often occupy themselves by playing with toys and don't seem interested in the books -- until someone offers to read to them.
"If you get a book and sit down, they stay engaged," he said.
Building rapport also has benefits during medical appointments, when a nursing student might be the one administering injections. "When they see us in the examining room, they're more comfortable with us," he said.
The book donation reinforces a continuing relationship between HCC and the Holyoke Health Center. Many HCC nursing students do their pediatric clinical rotations at the Holyoke Health Center and some of them worked there as medical assistants before entering the nursing program. Some may even return to the Holyoke Health Center to work as nurses after graduating from HCC.
Claribel Colon, for one, is now a medical assistant working for Dr. Billings. She's also taking pre-requisite classes at HCC to prepare herself for the HCC nursing program. "In about a year and a half, you'll be ready," said Kelly Keane, HCC Nursing Success coordinator. "It's a long process but hang in there."
Photos: (Left) HCC nursing student Moxy Anamonye, lab coordinator Cathy Clemmitt and Nursing Success coordinator Kelly Keane carry in some of the hundreds of books donated to Holyoke Health Center. (Right) HCC nursing students Moxy Anamonye, Alexander Pangborn and Martha Brabant hold some of the donated books alongside Dr. Stephanie Billings, center, and medical assistant and HCC student Claribel Colon at the Holyoke Health Center.