In 1996, Dolly Parton launched an exciting new effort to benefit the children of her county in east Tennessee. Dolly wanted to foster a love of reading among her county's preschool children and their families. She wanted children to be excited about books and to feel the magic that books can create. Moreover, she could insure that every child would have books, regardless of their family's income.
So she decided to mail a brand new, age appropriate book each month to every child under 5 in Sevier County. With the arrival of every child's first book, the classic The Little Engine That Could, every child could now experience the joy of finding their very own book in their mail box. These moments continue each month until the child turns 5—and in their very last month in the program they receive Look Out Kindergarten Here I Come.
Needless to say, the experience has been a smashing success. So much so that many other communities clamored to provide the Imagination Library to their children. Dolly thought long and hard about it and decided her Foundation should develop a way for other communities to participate. The Foundation asked a blue ribbon panel of experts to select just the right books and secured Penguin Group USA to be the exclusive publisher for the Imagination Library. Moreover a database was built to keep track of the information.
Consequently, in March of 2000 she stood at the podium of The National Press Club in Washington, D.C. and revealed the plan for other communities to provide the Imagination Library to their children. And as only Dolly can say it, she wanted to "put her money where her mouth is – and with such a big mouth that's a pretty large sum of money" and provide the books herself to the children of Branson, Missouri and Myrtle Beach, South Carolina – communities where her businesses now operate. If other leaders in their communities were willing to do the same, well something big might just happen.
You know what? It did!!
Since we started the program in 2009, over 1300 children have registered for the Dolly Parton Imagination Library in Douglas County; that's a significant portion of the eligible population in Douglas County. With a donation of only $30 a year to the United Way, you can provide an area child with the exciting gift of an age appropriate book mailed to their home each month until that child reaches age 5.
Each year since the program started, a UW-Superior Social Work Research Team has identified an aspect of the program to research. Surveys and 1:1 interviews have been conducted to determine the success of the program. The data gathered continues to support the importance of books in the home and the connection to early childhood literacy and kindergarten readiness.
Comments received from parents responding to a survey or an unsolicited letter of support include:
"Thank you for a great program."
"We like the variety of books that have come. My kids enjoy the books."
"Two of the books use a rhyming scheme, which makes her more aware of rhythm and, I hope, will increase her interest in poetry versus regular books."
"After I read to my 4 year old, she 'reads' to me by repeating the story as best she can remember it."
"My child has a wider variety of words, the concepts provide for a better comprehension of the broader vocabulary."
"Books such as Panda Whispers, the latest book we have received, include pictures of a variety of animals and the animals' appropriate characteristics or tendencies are emphasized."