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'Always Reading' Sparks Kids' Love Of Books

OAKLAND (KPIX 5) For young children learning to read, a book or e-tablet can open the door to the future. Now one of the Bay Area's former Olympic champions is making sure five and six-year-olds get that opportunity.

Kristi Yamaguchi is helping kids in need by bringing e-tablet technology into their classrooms. And parents are getting a quick lesson on how to use e-tablets loaded with digital books -- lessons from none other than Yamaguchi herself, who on a recent morning spent time with mom Sylvia Crockett, and her son Titus. For Crockett, extra 'reading' time means quality family time.

"It's visual. It's more hands on," explained Crockett of the e-tablet. "We will allow the audio to play and we will have the physical book and that is how we enjoy reading at nighttime."

The Bay Area Olympic Gold Medalist and skating star, is also a best-selling author and a champion for literacy. She launched her project, called "Always Reading"  in 2012, providing free e-reader tablets and hard cover story books to families in need. Always Reading is part of Yamaguchi's non-profit, the Always Dream Foundation, or ADF, which for the past 22 years has helped more than 10,000 children in kindergarten and first grade learn to read. ADF operates in California, Arizona, and Hawaii. She's hoping to expand it nationwide.

On school site visits, Yamaguchi frequently reads aloud from her own books to students and parents like Allendale Elementary School's kindergarten class in Oakland.

"It's just our passion right, and that is what we get all excited about," said Yamaguchi of her school visits. "And we know that those minutes read every day are making a difference in where they are ending up."

Allendale's Principal Desiree Miles says the program, and e-tablets, are not only incorporated into classroom work, they also take parental involvement to a whole new level.

"Having the tablets and being able to take them home provides this whole opportunity for our parents to feel that they are more involved and engaged with their students education," said Miles.

The tablets are also lots of fun for students like Titus, who was so inspired by his new book, he broke out into song, charming KPIX anchor Allen Martin.

"The wheels on the bus go round and round....round and round...round and round, the wheels on the bus go round and round all over town," sang Titus.

"Cool!" said Martin in response.

And it's that kind of reaction that is music to Yamaguchi's ears. She has two daughters of her own, and she knows firsthand the joy reading can bring to a young child.

"Making sure that these kids are accessing the books and making sure the families are getting the support they need," said Yamaguchi. "They will find incredible value in it."

So for providing the tools to help young children launch their reading skills, this week's Jefferson Award in the Bay Area goes to Kristi Yamaguchi.

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