Local members of three Lewis County rotary clubs are regarding their current effort to enroll preschool children into Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library program as much more than a great way to introduce youngsters to literary classics. They’re, in fact, banking on early reading ultimately propelling area youth to successful careers in the years ahead. 

Area rotarians assembled at the Centralia and Chehalis Timberland libraries Thursday afternoon to engage local parents in hopes of having them sign up their preschool-aged children to the global gifting endeavor that mails free, pre-selected books to youngsters from birth to 5 years old. 

As of this week, about 400 children had been signed up. 

President of the Twin Cities Rotary Mike LeClair was among a handful of club reps at the Centralia branch and explained how studies have shown that literacy is tied to multiple positive aspects of a child’s maturation into adulthood by mitigating crime and poverty rates. 

“We find that children’s brains begin to form and accumulate information the most when they’re youngest, in their first three years. So, we want to get them familiar with books and reading early on … and give them a better future,” he said. 

Twin Cities Rotary Assistant Governor Anil Puri broke down research provided by the Anne E. Casey Foundation and other sources that underscores the importance of early reading by indicating that if a third grade student is reading at a third grade level, that child has about a 95-percent chance of graduating high school. 

On the other side of the spectrum, the research points out that students who aren’t proficient in reading by the end of the third grade school year are four times as likely to drop out of school than their peers with high reading scores. 

Another key figure in promoting Parton’s Imagination Library program has been Centralia Rotary Club President John Elmore, who as a former Centralia city councilor and 40-year Lewis County resident has been actively considering new strategies to help young individuals avoid lifelong pitfalls that are often the product of “bad choices.” 

“I thought that there’s got to be a better way, so you start to look at  a lot of data and you start to see cycles and patterns and think about how do we break the patterns,” he observed. 

Elmore said the end goal of the three-year commitment made the local rotary groups and the United Way of Lewis County is to see a greater number of youngsters advance past high school and college and prepare them for future Lewis County jobs that could be coming down the pike if/when new corporations decide to set up shop in Centralia, Chehalis or in any of their neighboring cities.  

“Once a kid drops out, there’s the loss of earning potential for that child for the next 50 years. They never totally catch up because you can’t even get a job without a driver’s license, a GED. So, some people really have to struggle with just getting the most basic job,” Elmore said. 

Also helping in the sign-up activities Thursday afternoon was Miss Lewis County Rebecca Ford, as she and her mother, Shelly made their rounds at both libraries to get parents and their children excited about partaking in Parton’s Imagination venture, featuring a 60-volume set of books, starting with “The Little Engine That Could.” 

Ford, 20, shared fond memories of her mother opening a whole new world of books to her as a toddler and how that created a lasting passion she currently holds for diving into hard-copy publications. 

“YouTube and electronic things definitely have their place. There’s a lot of learning opportunities out there, but there’s just something about a hard book when you pick it up and you let your imagination just flow. You can visualize and picture everything in your head,” she offered as opposed to viewing a TV program or YouTube video, which she deemed as being a more passive experience in which “you already have someone reading to you.” 

Parents who wish to sign up can contact the United Way of Lewis County at 360-748-8100 or pick up a sign-up form at their local Lewis County library.

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