By Gina Minoia

The Literacy Legacy Project, created by Professor Lisa Strahley, addresses one of the most pressing issues in our community: promoting childhood literacy, starting from the day a baby is born. Last Thursday, the program’s official launch drew over 100 supporters who enjoyed an evening of music, food and a variety of talks by guest speakers including Dana Suskind, author of Thirty Million Words

Dana Suskind's book "Thirty Million Words"

Dana Suskind’s book “Thirty Million Words”

Strahley, along with development leads Lenny Grozier and Julie Lamuraglia, believe in the “power of loving words through talking, singing, reading, and playing every single day.” The importance of engaging little ones from birth is backed up by concrete studies which suggest that 85% of brain development occurs during the first few years of a child’s life.

Dana Suskind, a Chicago cochlear implant surgeon and author of Thirty Million Words, inspired the Children’s Reading Connection’s “ Community Read” with her extensive research and advocacy for early childhood literacy. To kick off the Community Read, Dr. Suskind made a skype appearance at the LLP Launch to talk about her mission and field audience questions.

She solidified some of the night’s themes, saying, “It’s not just about getting children [age 0-3] ready for school, it’s about encouraging healthy brain development.” Suskind developed her passion for words when she noticed how a rich language environment — or lack thereof — affected literacy rates in the deaf children she operated on.

Other voices filled the room to inform and educate, including SUNY Broome’s Dr. Jennifer Musa, who gave a mini-science lesson about childhood brain development. On the subject of “blooming” and “pruning” synapses, Musa explained that “the more language and stimuli [young children] receive, the stronger synapses become.” With her parting words, Dr. Musa expressed hope that the Project would “[empower] parents and caregivers to start on day one.”

County Executive Jason Garnar and Assemblywoman Donna Lupardo also shared words of support and excitement about the Literacy Legacy Project. Garnar talked about one of LLP’s current initiatives, “Baby’s First Book. Starting on March 1, every baby born in Broome County has received a special welcome gift: Karma Wilson’s children’s book Babycakes.

“Babies born today got this book,” said Garnar, who has provided generous support for the program along with local hospitals, SUNY Broome’s Civic Engagement Center and other local businesses.

Dr. Lenny Grozier outlined some ongoing and future initiatives from the Literacy Legacy Project: the One Book: Preschool program gifts a copy of Suzanne Bloom’s Is This the Bus for Us? to every incoming preschooler in the county. Similarly, each kindergarten student will receive How Rocket Learned to Read by Tad Hills. Grozier also tells us to expect more books available to children and parents in “food pantries, buses and laundromats,” as well as banners promoting
reading at a young age. Translations and recording of the featured children’s’ books will also be available soon.

Learn how you can support the Literacy Legacy Project by visiting or emailing Lisa Strahley at or Julie Lamuraglia at

Writer Gina Minoia is a sophomore in the Education program.