sussex county-Three New Jersey Cardinals baseball players scored big with young fans at Little Sprouts Day Care Center as the Even Start Celebrity Readers for July. "Celebrity Reader events are always fun, and our parents and children were especially excited to have the NJ Cardinals read for us today. They did a great job," says Brenda Bode, Even Start Coordinator. Pitchers Scott Schweitzer and Mike Sillman and first baseman Levi Webber, who had just returned from the road and a winning home game the night before, took time out to read to Even Start families and Little Sprouts Day Care Center children on July 6, 2004. Their visit was part of Project Self-Sufficiency's Celebrity Reader program, which encourages children to develop an early love of reading by having local "celebrities" like the Cardinals act as reading role models. Schweitzer, Sillman and Webber took turns reading the baseball-themed books Playing Right Field by Willy Welch and The Ball Game by David Packard. After the reading, the children approached the players with their toys and climbed onto their laps for a group photo. The event concluded with the three athletes giving high fives and passing out copies of the books they'd read to each of the children. "The children were great," said Schweitzer. "We are thankful for the opportunity to read to the children and hope to see them on Sept. 2." On Sept. 2, the Cardinals will celebrate the first year of the New Jersey Cardinals Reading Program, which was developed by the Cardinals in cooperation with Project Self-Sufficiency and D&H Alternative Risk Solutions. The program, like the Even Start Celebrity Reader Program, is designed to instill an early love of reading in children in grades K8. Simply by reading books (and having their parents or teachers fill out and sign a "score card" to keep track), children can earn prizes like Cardinals tickets, stickers, baseball cards, photo and autograph opportunities. To date, more than 1,600 Sussex County children have signed up for the program. Lisa Howell, NJ Cardinals Community Relations & Group Sales Director said that all children, whether they participated in the program or not, can come to the Sept. 2 anniversary part. Questions about the celebration or reading program can be forwarded to Howell at 973-579-7500, extension 16. Even Start is a New Jersey Department of Education-funded family literacy program offered by Project Self-Sufficiency in conjunction with Sussex County Community College and Hopatcong Borough Public Schools. Eligible families participate in 6 components: GED/ABE/ESL classes, parenting classes, computer skills training, early childhood education, parent and child interactive activities, and family field trips. Project Self-Sufficiency's Even Start program offers free transportation, childcare, meals during classes, and a weekly stipend for perfect attendance. For more information about Even Start or the Celebrity Reader Program, contact Brenda Bode at -973-300-9405. For more information on Project Self-Sufficiency's services for single parents, teen parents and displaced homemakers, call 973-383-5129.