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Literacy advocates: Barbara Bush inspired mothers, children to learn to read

Posted: 6:46 PM, Apr 18, 2018
Updated: 2018-04-18 20:50:19-04

Former First Lady Barbara Bush, who passed away Tuesday at the age of 92, is being remembered in Southwest Florida as a major inspiration to many children - and their mothers - in learning to read. 

Diane Ponton, director of family literacy at Grace Place in Golden Gate, found that out after she began a reading program for mothers and their children several years ago. 

"But it was only once a week for two and a half hours," Ponton said. "With the support of the Barbara Bush Foundation for Family Literacy, we were able to grow the program to four days a week."

Ponton said that learning to read has allowed those moms to grow in their roles as their children's first teachers.

"That's something they really felt close to Barbara Bush about, because that was her passion," Ponton said.

The former First Lady's appearances at several "Celebration of Reading" events in Southwest Florida only strengthened that connection.

"She just had that way of making you feel comfortable and at home, like she's your grandma, your mom, your friend," Ponton said. 

Best-selling author Jill Conner Browne joined Barbara Bush at "Celebration of Reading" appearances in Southwest Florida. She believes Bush inspired others to not only read, but teach as well.

"The legacy that Barbara Bush leaves with this literacy program can't even be quantified," Browne said, who plans to attend Bush's funeral this Saturday. "Once somebody learns to read, you're forever free."

Ponton said that mothers who have learned to read through the literacy programs have called Grace Place, asking where they can send cards to the Bush family.

"They really feel the loss," Ponton said. "They really feel that she was instrumental in making their lives better."