Twice a year, Southwest Human Development partners with Paradise Valley Community College to host the Festival of Tales event with the goal of providing free books and literacy related activities for young children and their families. It was at this spring event that the Immers Family was introduced to Southwest Human Development and began to explore our family-centered literacy programs.

As native Romanians, the Immers’ (Mom, Mariana, and Dad Octavian) goal was to help their daughter, Erika who was one year old at the time, learn to read and speak English as her primary language. With that goal in mind, the family signed up for Raising a Reader, an eight-week literacy program that focuses on fostering early reading practices through songs, books, and child-friendly activities.

Since Erika is her first child, Mariana shared how she often felt unsure of how to support Erika’s development and if she was progressing appropriately or not compared with other children her age. Attending the Raising a Reader program helped her to gain confidence as a parent and understand that all children development differently and at their own pace. In fact, Erika learned one of her first words – “spine” after Mariana watched an interaction with another child who was learning about a book’s spine in the Raising a Reader classroom. Through Mariana’s repetition of this word and pointing to the book’s spine, Erika was able to understand and repeat it back to her. Mariana was thrilled!


Once the Immers completed the Raising a Reader program, Mariana continued to engage with Southwest Human Development to learn more about other early literacy opportunities. Soon after, she had the opportunity to join Let’s Talk – a virtual eight-week program designed to give parents strategies for building young children’s vocabulary.


Having the confidence from attending the previous literacy programs, Mariana felt empowered to support her daughter’s growth and development by diving into the recommended exercises. Additionally, she collaborated with extended family members and grandparents to put the strategies into practice at their home. Before long, Mariana was confident enough to enthusiastically share videos and techniques with fellow Let’s Talk attendees.


Now a year later, Erika is thriving and continuing to learn new words and toys associated with her favorite books from her literacy courses – Llama Llama Red Pajama, Little Blue Truck, Goodnight Moon, and most especially Lightning McQueen and Cars.