July 24, 2018

“Reading to them was the only thing we could do that was normal”: This Florida couple has just given 2,200 books to a local hospital — and they plan on donating more


The Northeast Georgia Medical Center Gainesville. Via nghs.com.

Put this in your cynicism and smoke it: Gainesville couple Abby and Ryan Burle are donating 2,200 books to the Northeast Georgia Medical Center’s neonatal ICU after first bonding with their triplets there last year, as Jeff Gill reports for the Gainesville Times.

When the Burles were not able to touch or cuddle their three newborns, they found comfort in another form of nurture and connection. “Reading to them was the only thing we could do that was normal,” Ryan Burle tells Gill.

“As a mom, it was a comfort thing,” Abby Burle adds. “It was a way for my babies to hear my voice.” The experience of reading to their newborn triplets in the NICU inspired the Burles to start an NICU book drive, which they named the Mighty Three. Its mission was successfully fulfilled on Thursday, July 12, 2018, when the couple delivered over 2,200 books to the hospital’s Women and Children’s Pavilion.

The idea was for “every baby to get two books when they come in the NICU, whether it’s for an hour or six months,” Abby says. “We didn’t think it would be this successful.” The Burles, who thought they would likely end up having to purchase most of the books themselves, originally set a goal of 850. They began by creating an Amazon Wish List asking their friends and acquaintances to buy books in either English or Spanish. To the couple’s surprise, they reached that number in four days and soon found themselves buried in the books being sent to their house. Then, after their efforts were featured in a newsletter by the United Way, an individual donated a thousand books to the drive.

In addition to their clear personal connection to this cause, the Burles both work in education and have seen first-hand how beneficial reading is in early childhood. Ryan is an English teacher at East Hall High School and Abby taught middle school math before choosing to stay home with the triplets. Moreover, Abby’s father has long been involved in education and always emphasized the importance of reading books.“It’s super important to read to your babies,” Abby says.

“I can see the effects of it on kids — those read to as children and those who weren’t read to as much,” Ryan adds. “You see it definitely in high school with their comprehending, literacy and vocabulary.”

Having met their goal at the hospital that cared for their own infants, the couple has now set their sights on two other local NICU facilities, with the goal of donating 3,500-4,000 books between the two. Given that being read to plays a crucial role in both emotional and cognitive development, it’s comforting to see such continuing dedication and support for early literacy.



Gaia Steinfeld DeNisi is an intern at Melville House.