After the book-club-themed birthday party she threw for her 2-year-old daughter was a smashing success, Tiffany Dickerson began to think more seriously about teaching her daughter to read. She succeeded, but she wanted other young children to have the same encouragement. Thus, Sydney’s Book Club was born. It started as a small program at the New Cumberland Army Depot, but interest has grown, and Tiffany has big plans for the nonprofit. In a Q&A with TriangleMom2Mom.com, she offers tips on getting your preschooler interested in reading and tells us what it’s really like to be a military family. And she should know: Dickerson recently was voted New Cumberland Army Depot Spouse of the Year in a contest sponsored by Armed Forces Insurance.
Q. What town do you live in, and what brought you there?
A. I’ve recently moved back to my hometown on the outskirts of Goldsboro, NC, from having lived in seven different homes, in three different states, over the course of the last eleven years. Most of my moves have either been for career advancement or answering the call of being a proud military spouse.
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Q. Tell us a little about yourself, and about your family.
A. I'm a self-professed tomboy that spent most of my early years on the basketball court, or engrossed in a Babysitters Club book. Hard work I found to be in my genes, working sometimes two jobs simply for the sake of having my own money. I graduated from The University of North Carolina at Greensboro, where I met my prince charming and we later married – literally in a castle.
I walked in my father's footsteps pursuing a career enforcing the law. Straight out of college I worked as an adult probation and parole officer for the State of NC, eventually advancing into corporate America as an access authorization specialist, making pretty good money. Then the Navy called, and we answered. I left behind what I thought was the peak of my career, and headed to Hampton Roads to become a stay-at-home wife and mother.
Dedicated to helping others, I started my own business called MyGift, and became the VP of Communications and Artist Relations with ENDEE Magazine. My latest endeavor is being founder and executive director of Sydney’s Book Club, which is a 501(c)3 organization promoting early reading and literacy skills in children.
I’m the mom to two beautiful girls, Sydney, 4, and Layla, 6 months. My husband is a supply officer in the U.S. Navy, who I’m blessed to have in my corner, supporting my work as I support his.
I always say, that becoming a stay-at-home mom was never in my plan, but God saw differently and it’s worked out better than I could have ever imagined.
Q. Let’s talk about Sydney’s Book Club. When did you start it, and why?
A. Inspired by my daughter Sydney who at an early age showed a fond interest in books, planned my then 2-year-old daughter’s birthday party around a book club theme, which started the idea of “Sydney’s Book Club.” This party received such rave reviews from its attendees that I set out on a challenge to get Sydney reading by her 3rd birthday. Sydney was definitely up to the challenge. After hitting her mark before 3, with the ability to read 4-5 word sentences and amazing others in the process, I knew that if my child could accomplish this task, then others her age should be granted the same opportunity. With the inspiration to both evoke change in our national reading and literacy statistics and to strengthen homes by creating proficient readers for a better tomorrow, Sydney’s Book Club was established on April 9, 2011.
After extensive prayer and planning, I launched a pilot program on the New Cumberland Army Depot in August 2012 and invited military moms and their preschoolers to take part. The pilot program allowed me to evaluate and make some changes before officially launching on Dec. 12, 2012. I was able to link up with author Floyd Stokes, who is also the founder of the American Literacy Corporation. Floyd’s extensive knowledge on both literacy and running a successful nonprofit were invaluable. He mentored me in both aspects and also gave Sydney’s Book Club a chance to get some exposure by inviting us to be a part of various literacy events his organization hosted throughout Central Pennsylvania. In February 2013, we secured our first location in which to host book club on a biweekly basis The Little Scholar Bookstore, and have been going ever since.
The National Association of Early Prevention indicates that, “every school in this country has a number of children who are failing the task of learning to read. It is vitally important to engage your child in structured reading help as early as possible, and to get appropriate help if areas for improvement are identified. The longer early readers are allowed to fall behind, the greater the gap in their skills. Help in the early years is the key to getting a child off on the right path. Because reading is a learned skill; it is not part of a child’s hard-wiring. You can change the way your child reads.”
Our mission is to make a massive impact by introducing the importance of literacy from preschool age. We believe the best way to repair the illiteracy issue in the United States is by ensuring that it does not manifest to begin with. At Sydney's Book Club, we focus on creating awareness in the parents of children ages 3 to 5 in the importance of introducing books and reinforcing the need to read. Studies show that children that enter kindergarten already possessing the ability to read and perform at even minimal levels of comprehension continue to thrive above their peers from elementary well into the high school performance levels. Yes, there are many ways to approach the issue, but for our organization we work from the root up.
Q. What are your plans for the near future (and maybe some farther-away dreams, too!) with Sydney’s Book Club?
A. Sydney’s Book Club is just getting started, its vision goes beyond what most would imagine. In the upcoming months our online content will transition to becoming more curriculum based and our followers will see more interactive content. We’re going to basically bring our book club event, online. In the future we will launch programs that will cater to military families and parents just to name a few!
We are looking to bring SBC to more locations, so we are always seeking volunteers and for individuals that are looking to inspire and make a positive impact to join our team. We also would love to connect and partner with organizations to promote early literacy to the masses, as well as places in the local community that would allow us to share their space for monthly events.
Q. Some kids really take naturally to reading, and others just don’t seem interested. How can you spark that love of reading in a child if it doesn’t seem to be coming naturally?
A. We at Sydney’s Book Club make learning and loving to read for our preschooler’s fun, not a chore or a form of discipline. We realize that engaging children of this age group can be tricky as their attention spans are still developing. For some kids, there is an instant attraction to books and reading, while others are more hesitant to pick up a book. For our picky readers, we suggest identifying areas of interest for the child and finding books related to that topic. For instance, for little boys who would rather pick up a toy truck than read, begin seeking out and purchasing books about trucks and transportation. This not only gets the child's attention immediately but also creates a connection that lets them know that they can learn more about the things they love inside of books.
Q. Sydney’s Book Club is mentioned in your profile on the Military Spouse of the Year contest website, and you also talk about a need for more youth programs on military bases. What’s it like for a kid growing up in a military family, and what kind of support do you think they need?
A. Every child takes the uncertainties of relocating and a parent being absent from the home during deployments differently. I think our military communities have to embrace our kids the more. I believe that when a family arrives on base in a new area for the first time, a child should see their previous base programs and activities replicated. They should be able to pick right up from where they left off.
I also believe that more funds needs to be placed into securing programs for our youth on base. These programs should be inexpensive, available for all age groups, and cater to both their physical and mental advancement. Military families should not have to seek activities for their children off base, especially when there is a community of like-minded individuals on.
Q, What about being a military spouse? What’s the hardest part of that, for you?
A. The hardest parts have to be the deployments, and moving. Just like the kids, we as spouses miss having our significant others in the home on the regular, and it’s hard to leave friends behind and have to find newer friends at our next installation. Luckily, I believe the military has actually pushed our organization to reach new heights. Since we often have to relocate, having book club has helped me and Sydney to connect with other parents and children, which has provided the much-needed social and educational experience that we and others like us are seeking.
Being a military spouse requires the ability to adapt to situations and environments. It requires a lot of hard work, communication, trust, support and sacrifice. It defines being a part of something bigger than you and your relationship, and sometimes something you may not fully understand.
Q. What's the best parenting trick you've picked up?
A. Getting the kids on a schedule, hands down, has been the best stress reducer for me.
Q. What's your least favorite part and most favorite part of being a mom?
A. The least favorite part is knowing that they grow up and that they are growing up in an environment that I can’t rightly control. My favorite part is being able to be there with them, watching them grow, capturing their Kodak moments, teaching them, and creating memories with them that will last a lifetime.
Know a mom in the Triangle with a story to tell? Or are you that mom? We're always looking for local moms to get to know through a Meet Q&A. Tell us about it at firstname.lastname@example.org.