Follow your dreams. The sky’s the limit. You can do anything you set your mind to do. You can be president if you work hard enough. Those are just some of the things we tell our children to inspire them to achieve their dreams. The ability to read may be the most crucial skill people acquire. Learning to read opens doors to worlds we explore throughout our lifetime. Kids and adults who can’t read never learn how to explore those worlds that others take for granted.
By Lisa Nowatzki
Because her father never learned to read, country music legend, Dolly Parton decided to do something to help set young children on the path to reading and to help them realize their dreams. She has accomplished this task by instilling in young children the love of reading. She started a program called the Imagination Library, hoping to help them love learning and want to read.
“Before he passed away, my daddy told me the Imagination Library was probably the most important thing I had ever done. I can’t tell you how much that meant to me because I created the Imagination Library as a tribute to my daddy. He was the smartest man I have ever known, but I know in my heart his inability to read probably kept him from fulfilling all of his dreams.”
To fulfill Parton’s dream, the Dolly Parton Imagination Library Foundation was started to help communities deliver books to children ages birth to five years old. The Foundation does the mailing of the books and takes care of the administrative part of the operation. However, they need help from local affiliates. These Local Champions and community partners offer the connection point that drives local awareness, enrolls local children and pays the wholesale costs of the books each month.
Thanks to Andrea Jacobson Puppe, Cavalier County has had this program up and running since August 2015. For this to happen, several community members and partners became involved. Puppe, the program affiliate and Local Champion, has to enter eligible Cavalier County children into the Imagination Library system and keep it up-to-date. She ensures postage is paid for and oversees the implementation of the program in Cavalier County.
Puppe said that the local cost is about $25 per child per year. Currently, there are 164 children in Cavalier County that receive books each month. This equates to more than $4000 a year that Puppe must raise to ensure that all the local kids receive their books each month.
“Each year we always raise funds to cover all the enrolled children, but if we had a large enrollment, we would run out of funds. We have no reserve funding. I send out donation letters every year to all of our participating businesses. They are great, but we could always use more donations,” Puppe said.
Another requirement from the Foundation is that the local affiliate must partner with a non-profit to launch the program locally. In this case, the Northern Lights Arts Council (NLAC) has been gracious enough to agree to be a partner in this endeavor. “They helped get this set up and implemented,” Puppe said.
The Imagination Library program fits in with what the NLAC is currently doing to encourage the love of reading. In the past, the NLAC has partnered with the Cavalier County Library by bringing book discussions to the community and also participated during Reading Month by bringing in various speakers to the Langdon Area Elementary School.
Parton launched the Imagination Library in 1995 to benefit the children of her home county in East Tennessee. The first book order reached more than 1,700 children. Today, Parton’s Imagination Library sends more than one million books per month to children around the world inspiring them to Dream More, Learn More, Care More and Be More.
Currently, according to Parton’s website, as of August 2018, over 108 million free books have been mailed out. Free books are not all that the Imagination Library provides. Also on the website are activity sheets that go along with some of the books being read.
Past books include “Baking Day at Grandma’s” by Anika Denise, “Goodnight Tractor” by Michelle Robinson and Nick East, and “Llama Llama Red Pajama” by Anna Dewdney. Each of these books is made more fun by having parents complete fun activity sheets with their kids.
The Imagination Library provides the infrastructure of the core program. On the website, the program covers all overhead and administrative costs at no expense to the Local Champion partners. The program also provides the book ordering system database and support and coordinates the Blue Ribbon Book Selection Committee and the monthly order and fulfillment program.
The Local Champion and charity partner enroll local children from ages birth to five in their coverage area. They pay $2.10 per child per month towards wholesale books and mailing costs. Finally, the Local Champion promotes the program locally to drive up enrollment and funding.
According to the Parton’s website, her vision was to foster a love of reading among her county’s preschool children and their families. The program gave each child a specially selected book each month. Now, Parton’s Imagination Library mails a high quality, age-appropriate book to all locally registered children, addressed to them, at no cost to the child’s family.
By mailing high quality, age-appropriate books directly to their homes, Dolly wanted children to be excited about books and to feel the magic that books can create. Moreover, she could ensure that every child would have books, regardless of their family’s income.
Parton’s efforts have since paid off. Since the inception, the Imagination Library has set and surpassed even the most generous estimates. In 2000, national replication of the program began. It allowed more and more communities to adopt the program.
In 2001, a significant milestone was achieved with the program. Several cities from 11 states, including Spartanburg, Sioux Falls, and Sioux City seeded the program within their United Way organizations. Armed with local sponsors, communities mailed books to almost 30,000 children under the age of five, proving that dreams do come true.
Then in 2002, United Way organizations helped the Imagination Library reach thousands of children in Native American communities throughout the US. Preschoolers in 92 Native American communities became recipients of Imagination Library books.
In 2003 another great milestone was reached. Imagination Library sent out its one-millionth free book. In 2004, Parton accomplished another noteworthy task when statewide coverage was achieved in Tennessee. Furthermore, international growth saw Parton’s program expand into Canada in 2006, the United Kingdom in 2007, and Australia in 2014.
On the Imagination Library website, Parton lays out her mission and goals in starting the Imagination Library. “Inspiring kids to love to read became my mission. In the beginning, my hope was simply to inspire the children in my home county, but here we are today with a worldwide program that gives a book a month to well over one million children.
Of course, I have not done this alone. The real heroes of our story are the thousands of local organizations who have embraced my dream and made it their own. They raise millions of dollars each year and wake up every day with a passion to make sure their kids have every opportunity to succeed.”
Parton is modest and chooses not to recognize her efforts in the program. Instead, she points to the numerous groups and individuals that work hard behind the scenes to make each book a special moment for each child. An, in turn, countless parents show their thanks by sharing how excited their child is when their new book arrives each month.
Several milestones have been celebrated throughout the years. With each goal achieved a new one takes its place, creating an ever-growing and expanding organizational culture, much like that of Parton’s always-keep-dreaming mindset.
If you want more information about the Imagination Library or enrolling your child, contact Andrea Jacobson Puppe at 701-520-7413 or email her at email@example.com. You can also go to the Imagination Library website at imaginationlibrary.com. To donate please send checks to the Imagination Library, c/o NLAC PO Box 162, Langdon, ND 58249.