BESTIE BEARS: Will Stephenson  and Jasmine Harvey, both 6, love reading books with their bears.
BESTIE BEARS: Will Stephenson and Jasmine Harvey, both 6, love reading books with their bears. Alistair Brightman

Read Bear project tackles not-so-soft issues

A VERY beary program was presented to a number of primary schools in Hervey Bay this month.

Recent Australian Early Development Census data identified that Hervey Bay children are well above state and national averages for child vulnerability.

To help tackle the issue, The Hervey Bay Neighbourhood Centre partnered with Red Cross to bring the Read Bear Project to fruition.

HBNC CEO Tanya Stevenson said the children were each given a hand-made bear they could name and read to, in the hope it would motivate more reading, as well as getting parents and siblings involved in reading with children each night.

"All of the Read Bears have been hand-made, with special 'reading bears' labels sewn on which only could have been achieved through Fraser Coast Community effort, receiving support from the Red Cross, the Crafty Chicks, and caring, creative individuals who volunteered to help," she said.

The pilot started on September 2 to coincide with Child Protection Week and has been rolled out with Year 1 classes at Yarrilee, Kawungan and Pialba State Primary Schools, as well as with the Hervey Bay Neighbourhood Centre's Intensive Family Support Service.

Watching on as the Read Bears were handed out at Kawungan School on September 2, Youth Mentor Di Clarke said the response from the children was pleasing.

"I was talking to my friend waiting for her son outside prep when the bell rang and it was so lovely to see the kids come out of the classroom holding and cuddling their reading bears, clearly very happy with them," Ms Clarke said.

"My little friend loved his bear ... I think it is a wonderful initiative and I was pleased to be able to see the reactions of these students."

The Read Bears Project was inspired by similar models and other programs involving teddy bears, which have been implemented internationally and have demonstrated outcomes in increasing children's well being.

The Read Bears Project will run until the end of November 2019.

Phone the Hervey Bay Neighbourhood Centre on 4194 3000 to find out more.