MOUNT VERNON — Community sponsors, as well as the United Way of Knox County and the Kiwanis Club of Mount Vernon, are revving up for the launch of a new early learning intervention program, Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library.
During the Kiwanis Club’s weekly luncheon, Pam Hunsaker, regional director for the Imagination Library, spoke about the importance of literacy in young children.
“Dolly started the Imagination Library as a way to give back because she feels she has been so blessed in her life,” said Hunsaker. “Children develop much of their ability to learn in the first three years of their life ... and the key is to start at birth. To immerse the child into a literacy environment can be a stronger predictor of literacy and academic achievement than family income. The more words a child hears, the larger the vocabulary; the larger the vocabulary, the more likely the child will become a proficient reader. But in order for a child to become a proficient reader, books have to be in the home.”
The local participation is a part of a larger international effort to promote reading in children under the age of 5. Started in 1996 by Dolly Parton, the organization was designed to encourage children in her home county in east Tennessee to read by sending a brand new, age-appropriate book to each child under the age of 5 once a month. The program expanded and many communities around the United States, as well as Canada and the United Kingdom, now participate in the program.
More than one child in a family may participate in the program, and each year new books are introduced so younger siblings will not receive the exact book as the year before. The library also includes many bilingual titles.
“Young children is Kiwanis’ No. 1 priority,” said Austin Swallow, president of the Kiwanis Club in Mount Vernon. “We know that 46 percent of America’s kindergartners are behind from the time they enter kindergarten. The situation is even worse for children in low-wage families; they are often two years further behind. By the third grade, the foundation is set. There’s a lot of debate in our country about closing the achievement gap. But there’s not enough conversation about the fact that we’re losing that battle before our children ever step foot in the classroom. Today we are going to take the next step in making our young children a No. 1 priority in Knox County.”
The first book each child receives is “The Little Engine That Could,” a book meant to inspire the imagination in every child at any age level. The last book received will be one to encourage children entering kindergarten: “Miss Kindergarten Gets Ready for Kindergarten.”
“The books are sent to the child’s home to promote a sense of excitement,” said Hunsaker, adding that this also encourages children to want to read by getting something “new” each month.
The books in the programs are free to the children.
Local sponsors, including Kiwanis Club of Mount Vernon, Knox County Board of Developmental Disabilities, The Community Foundation of Mount Vernon & Knox County, Central Ohio Technical College, Mount Vernon Nazarene University, and Knox County Family and Children First Council/Ohio Children’s Trust Fund, as well as the United Way of Knox County, help make the program possible.
“In Ohio, there are 15 total communities participating in the Imagination program and 10 of the 15 are United Way organizations,” said Hunsaker. “We currently have 1,100 communities and 46 states participating in the Imagination Library program.”
May 1 is the beginning for enrollment in the program. Parents, guardians and community members can contact the United Way for more information on how to register.
“Our goal in the first year is to register 500 children from birth to close to age 5,” said Jennifer Odenweller, executive director for the United Way of Knox County. “Through the endless partnerships of members of the Knox County Family and Children First Council, in addition to general community marketing, there is no doubt in my mind that this will happen.”