Angela French, United Way of Lewis County’s Development Director, said at Thursday’s Monthly Chamber Forum for the Centralia Chamber of Commerce that the ultimate goal for the Dolly Parton Imagination Library was to get 60 percent of the roughly 5,000 children under five-years-old in Lewis County signed up.
As of Thursday, it’s seen 990 sign-ups since November 1, 2019.
French and John Elmore, President of the Centralia Rotary Club and the Lewis County Rotary Club Foundation, gave a presentation on the program at the Centralia Chamber of Commerce’s monthly chamber forum on Thursday, highlighting costs for donors and other details of the program.
“Knowing how fast this has already grown, we’re already at almost 1,000 (kids), we’re a third of the way (to the goal) and we’re not even halfway through our first year,” French said. “It’s been really exciting. We could exceed that 3,000 goal.”
The Dolly Parton Imagination Library provides children with a free book, every month, from the time they sign-up — they’re eligible when they’re born — until they turn five, at no cost to the family.
Instead, the cost of the books are paid through donations. According to the United Way website, a $25 donation covers a child’s books for one year and a $125 donation provides five years worth of books.
“One of our United Way focus areas is early education,” French said. “We have our 30 percent out of poverty by 2030 goal and early education is one of the three focus areas that we have. There’s a ton of research out there that shows that when kids have access to early learning experiences, they’re more likely to graduate high school, get better jobs, pursue post-secondary education, whatever the case may be. Those first five years are critical. If we’re not supporting, as a community, those kids, especially in our community, that does have a huge effect on the future of our community.”
French continued by calling the program a “piece of an economic driver in this community.”
According to Elmore and French, the three Lewis County Rotary clubs and the Rotary Foundation donated a total of $20,000 in seed money to the program.
“You have to have seed money to get started,” French added. “It’s all about sponsoring those kids.”
Beyond the initial funding, United Way then pledged a portion of the proceeds from its Chef’s Night Out benefit on April 18, while the Rotary Foundation has said it will donate the money raised in its next three Tri-Club auctions to the Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library.
“That was a strong message to the community that we’re serious,” Elmore said. “It really helped alleviate some financial concerns on United Way’s behalf, we didn’t want that to be put on them.”
In the wake of the donations by United Way and the Rotary Foundation, Emmanuel Lutheran Church in Centralia contributed $5,000, Pacific Mobile added $5,000 of their own and the Chehalis Indian Tribe has said it will also support the cause with a donation next month.
Lewis County Rotary Foundation member Debbie Fruitman said the donations haven’t stopped with the large donors, though.
“When my clubs went out and did a sign-up at the Randle Library, they had people that just walked in and said, ‘how can we help, can we donate?,’” Fruitman said. “They came up with $125, $150, just by people walking in, in Randle. So, we’re encouraging individuals, I have a neighbor that wants to donate.”
Fruitman says as an early childhood education major, she knows that literacy is at the core of many other societal issues.
She adds that giving the kids the confidence to read is just the first step.
“Once you give children the basis of being able to read, at that point, they can do anything in their life,” Fruitman said. “They can read, they can learn, they can take off.”