Hosting My First “Literacy Changes Lives” Civic Dinner

By Kati Cosby

It’s a Tuesday night at Cohen’s Retreat, a staple in the Savannah restaurant scene. Eight of us have gathered to break bread and share stories. But this isn’t just a group of friends out to eat, we’re talking about how to foster the next generation of readers. This is a civic dinner.

This fall, Amy M. Jacobs, Commissioner of Bright from the Start: Department of Early Care and Learning, asked each representative with the statewide Early Education Community Partnership Coordinator team to host a civic dinner in our region.

Civic Dinners, an online civic engagement platform, brings communities together to collaborate and find creative ways to solve the big issues of our time. A civic dinner is a structured conversation over a meal with one host and six to 10 guests. Anyone can visit to sign up to attend or host a dinner on a number of timely topics.

The “Literacy Changes Lives Civic Dinner” is a partnership with the Sandra Dunagan Deal Center for Early Language and Literacy and Civic Dinners. The literacy conversation explores the roles our communities are playing and can play in encouraging and developing young readers.

As someone who works in early learning, and as a mother to a 1-year-old daughter, this topic is close to my heart. While I understand the importance of reading to her, having books in our home and being intentional in our conversations, I hadn’t considered her reading proficiency further down the line.

When looking into more research about literacy, I found that in Georgia, only 34 percent of children are prepared for reading proficiency by the end of the third grade. That means that only one in three 8-year-olds are ready and able to move on to the next grade. This information was startling to me.

I then set out to host my first civic dinner to bring members of my community together to learn how we could improve these statistics. I decided to host my dinner at a local restaurant, but you can also host them in your home, office, or even a public venue like a library.

Once you sign up to host a dinner, Civic Dinners sends you a host guide, which includes three big questions to frame the conversation. The host guide and other resources Civic Dinners provided helped me decide the where, when and how to host my dinner, making the whole process quite simple.

Each regional representative held a dinner in our area. Our guests included members from all walks of life and all across of our communities – from churches, Family Connection, retired military, the Georgia Department of Transportation, outreach coordinators from local libraries and members of the community that served on collaboration teams. Some were leaders in early childhood education, while others weren’t as familiar with the subject. Everyone was able to participate in the conversation and walk away feeling that they’ve had an impact.

My team’s experience was enlightening, informative and thought-provoking. We opened the conversation by sharing how we started reading as young children. Some of the stories reflected on the types of literature we enjoyed as children, while others were simply to share that a friend, family member or loved one had inspired and encouraged us to read because it was an important part of our education. Being read to as a child and learning to read were the building blocks of our success. A parent that was insistent, encouraging and expected only our best, diverse reading materials and songs, art and illustration to communicate the written word were tools used to continue our love and interest in reading.

We wrapped up our conversation by sharing ideas to help ensure every Georgia child is reaching proficiency in reading. Some of the best community-driven suggestions included increasing parent education on literacy, setting aside individual reading time, supporting libraries and their work, and connecting with area groups that have events focused on literacy and child development. This conversation highlighted how important it is that we as a community of professionals, parents, caregivers and family members are aware of what we should be doing to set our children up for success.

I found hosting a civic dinner to be valuable to my work because it brought new faces to the conversation that so greatly affects our work and the next generation of learners. I’d encourage anyone working in the field of early education or child development to host your own “Literacy Changes Lives” Civic Dinner. Visit or email

Kati Cosby is the Early Education Community Partnership Coordinator for the Southeast Region with Bright from the Start: Georgia Department of Early Care and Learning.