Imagination Library of Franklin County Celebrates 13 Years of Fostering a Love of Reading
Living in rural Tennessee, Dolly Parton’s father came from a large family and had to go to work at a young age. He did not get to attend school and could not read or write. Dolly stated this always troubled him and she wanted to honor him in a way to showcase the value of education, and in particular, reading. She started Imagination Library in 1995, a book gifting program that mails free, age appropriate books to children each month from birth to 5 years old, regardless of the family’s income. It was launched in Sevier County Tennessee, where Dolly grew up. The program exposes children to books at an early age, sparks creativity and prepares children for success in school while fostering a life-long love of reading. Statistics show the program enhances childhood literacy, kindergarten readiness and improves early literacy test scores. In 2000 Imagination Library began a national replication effort to expand the program beyond Sevier County, TN. The program quickly spread to other states and now operates in the USA, Canada, UK, and Australia. As of August 2020, over 143 million books have been gifted. Dolly is always looking for new ways to reach children and encourage the love of reading. In April, 2020 to provide some extra entertainment and encouragement for families and children during the COVID-19 stay at home orders, “Goodnight with Dolly” was launched. Once a week, for 10 weeks, the Book Lady (as Dolly loves to be called) read a feature book from Imagination Library. These videos can still be accessed on YouTube.
The Imagination Library of Franklin County (ILFC) was formed in September of 2007 by a volunteer group of 11 local leaders. With United Way of Franklin County as the fiscal agent, financial support to jumpstart the program came from the Franklin County Retired Teachers Association, the Franklin County High School BOOK Club and the Brookville Foundation. The organization held it’s “kick-off event” to enroll children at Stayin’ Alive’s Family Fun Day in May of 2008. The first child enrolled in the program was 2-year old Branson Russell, signed up by Barb Frye, his grandmother. By July 2009, a little over one year after the program started, it was serving 331 Franklin County children and 41 children “graduated” (reaching the age of 5 and aging out of the program). While several neighboring counties have ended their Imagination Library programs due to lack of funding, ILFC continues to operate in the county and currently serves approximately 350 children each month.
Two of the children currently served are Alana and Logan, twins of Luke and Sarah Foley. They became ILFC’s number 1000 and 1001 enrollees. The twins are currently four years old, enrolled in the St. Michael School preschool program, and still receiving monthly, age-appropriate books in the mail. When asked what they like about ILFC, Alana said “I love getting my own book in the mail”, and Logan added “I like how we always get a new book. It’s a new adventure when mom and dad read with us”. The parents shared that they do read with the twins daily. “I truly feel their vocabulary gets bigger and bigger with each new book the children receive. They can’t wait to unwrap it and have us read it to them”, stated Dad Luke. “The kids are so lucky to have this wonderful program in the county. They will cherish these books for many years to come and hopefully one day, they will be able to read them to their kids”, added Mom Sarah.
It costs approximately $30 a year to fund a child, and the ILFC operates completely on the generous donations of individuals, local non-profit organizations, businesses and grants. To be eligible for ILFC, children must live in Franklin County and enrollment forms are available at the Brookville and Laurel libraries. Please check out the ILFC website at www.imaginationlibraryfcin.com and on Facebook for more information about our local program and other ways to contribute.
As the ILFC celebrates 13 years of operation, it continues to follow Dolly’s goal: “If you teach children to read, you teach children to dream. If you can dream you can be successful, and being successful means to have a good life ahead of you.”
*Email interview with the Logan family