January 13, 2014

Jessica Pope
Communications and Media Relations Coordinator

Sullivan Literacy Center Partners with Moody for Pen Pal Project

VALDOSTA — A partnership between Moody Air Force Base and the Valdosta State University Ruby R. Sullivan Literacy Center is helping area boys and girls to become better readers and writers.

Expanding the Sullivan Literacy Center’s Dear Blazer Buddy Program, 31 children were partnered with airmen stationed at Moody Air Force Base for a special pen pal initiative during the summer. A few of those partnerships continue today.

Dr. Gina M. Doepker, literacy center director, said VSU’s Dear Blazer Buddy Program was developed “to give the children authentic reading and writing experiences that would be meaningful, relevant, and purposeful. Many of the children at the Sullivan Literacy Center are struggling, reluctant readers and struggling, reluctant writers as well.  The pen pal program is a … way to get them excited about writing.”

Typically, during fall and spring semesters, Dear Blazer Buddy Program participants are paired with a VSU student, and throughout the semester, the two write fun and motivating letters to each other. The Moody Air Force Base airmen were invited to join the effort over the summer and have expressed an interest in remaining active in the program throughout the school year.

“A few of the children have continued with the correspondence with their Moody Air Force Base pen pal,” Doepker, an associate professor in the James L. and Dorothy H. Dewar College of Education and Human Services, explained, adding that it can be “difficult to maintain the correspondence on both ends given that we are only with the children for 10 weeks during fall and spring semesters and six weeks during the summer semester. The Moody men and women also have schedules that take them out of the country for several months.”

Moody Air Force Base families are also part of the Ruby R. Sullivan Literacy Center’s Multidisciplinary Child Advocacy Team, or M-CAT. Through this initiative, divisions, colleges, and departments at VSU, as well as community organizations like Moody, provide identified services for center children and families, such as comprehensive assessments, health screenings, family support and therapy, content area tutoring, shadowing opportunities, adult literacy, and much more.

“I am so blessed that … (the Moody airmen) are actively involved with the Sullivan Literacy Center,” Doepker said.

The Ruby R. Sullivan Literacy Center’s mission is to be an integrated system of care for the children and families of Valdosta and surrounding areas with a focus on building children’s literacy skills, motivation, and confidence. The center now serves children in kindergarten through fifth grade, but programs are being developed for prekindergarten, middle school, and high school students, said Doepker.

The Ruby R. Sullivan Literacy Center offers several programs designed to help children in the elementary grades build literacy skills, gain confidence, and be more motivated to want to read for both pleasure and study:

• Literacy Education Assessment Program (LEAP): This is a literacy tutoring program that involves VSU pre-service teachers assessing the community children’s current literacy skills, developing specific literacy goals, providing one-on-one research-based literacy instruction and intervention, and monitoring the children’s literacy development progress. Students in LITR 4120: Literacy Assessment and Applications work with the children, gaining experience in assessing and planning appropriate literacy remediation. 

• Blazing Through Books Program: This feeder program for LEAP pairs VSU athletes and students with community children in one-on-one and small group literacy skill-building activities, such as reading, writing, listening, and speaking. Pairs of students from LITR 3110: Emergent Literacy read a book to the children as a group and then lead them through a fun, but educational, lesson related to the story. The purpose of this program is to get the children excited about reading, work on basic literacy skills, and expose the children to different genres.  

• Multidisciplinary Child Advocacy Team (M-CAT): Through this program, any and all departments at VSU, as well as interested community organizations, provide identified services for the community children and families, such as comprehensive assessments, health screenings, family support and therapy, content area tutoring, shadowing opportunities, adult literacy, and much more.

• Dear Blazer Buddy: This is a pen pal program that pairs community children with VSU athletes and students. It is designed to get the children involved in a reading and writing activity that is fun and motivating.

• Blazer Books Television Series: This is a developing program that gives all VSU faculty, staff, and students, as well as area public schools, organizations, and others the opportunity to read and/or recommend their favorite childhood book on camera.

• Reading Enrichment Club (REC) Center: This group was formed for those children who exceed their grade-level reading proficiencies but still want to participate in the program. It focuses on helping them extend their literacy competencies by providing more challenging reading and writing experiences. Participants have worked their way through the Blazing Through Books Program and the Literacy Education Assessment Program (LEAP).

VSU has had some sort of literacy outreach initiative since 1989.

The Ruby R. Sullivan Literacy Center is located on the first floor of the Dewar College of Education and Human Services.

Contact Dr. Gina M. Doepker at gmdoepker@valdosta.edu, (229) 333-5625, or (229) 333-5645 for more information.


Letter written by a Ruby R. Sullivan Literacy Center child to a Moody Air Force Base airman:

Dear Airman,

My name is Ella Grace. I am in kindergarten. I like to swim. I like to go to the movies. I like going to Disney World. What do you like to do? Do you like to swim or go to the movies?


Ella Grace


The Moody Air Force Base airman’s reply:

Ella Grace,

Hi! My name is Kristi. I was really happy to get your letter. I really like to swim and go to the movies. I really love to read, though. I have never been to Disney World. Is it fun there? What is your favorite thing to do at kindergarten?


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