In some of the most vivid memories of my toddlerhood, I’m snuggled up in my jammies before bedtime reading “Clifford the Big Red Dog,” “Little Critter” (Is he a hamster? The world may never know) and the “Berenstain Bears” for the 457th time with my mom. I’m sure she got bored, but she never let on.
Both of my parents read to me and taught me to read. My dad, a fan of the classics, introduced me to Winnie the Pooh and Dr. Seuss with the same books his parents read to him in the early 1960s — “The 500 Hats of Bartholomew Cubbins” among the favorites. I remember struggling though “Green Eggs and Ham” while sitting on my dad’s lap at 5 years old or so, thinking I’d never get the hang of it. But we kept at it, and I did.
My family struggled financially as many others do, but our house was always full of books. I didn’t realize until much later in life how unusual that was.
Inspired by research and statistics on the importance of early childhood education and reading skills in reducing poverty, homelessness and even crime, three area Rotary Clubs (Twin Cities, Centralia and Chehalis) and the United Way of Lewis County have combined forces to launch a local branch of Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library.
The program delivers a brand new book each month to participating children from birth to five years old, at no cost to the family. Each book is personalized with the child’s name and mailed directly to their home. The first book each child receives is “The Little Engine That Could.”
“This fit really well into what we were doing in lifting kids out of poverty,” United Way of Lewis County Executive Director Debbie Campbell told The Chronicle’s editorial board recently, adding that local educators have reported children are increasingly not ready for kindergarten when they arrive. “This gets to the root cause of the early education piece.”
The program costs the Rotary clubs and United Way $25 per child enrolled annually.
Hundreds of children have been signed up, and Rotary members have already committed $20,000 toward the program. More fundraisers are planned, and the groups believe it will cost $60,000 to $70,000 a year to sustain the program in the future.
This afternoon, partners from the Rotary clubs and United Way will be at Centralia and Chehalis Timberland Library locations from 4:30 p.m. to 6 p.m. to sign up families.
If you’re a parent of a child or children from birth to 5 years old, this is a no-brainer. It’s free, it’s easy, and it will give them a leg up on reading skills before they head to school.
But perhaps more importantly, if you’re in a position to sponsor a child, or two, or more, please consider doing so. Name another $25 annual donation that could do more for a family.
Our libraries already do a great job of creating programming for children and families, but there’s something to be said for a child having a shelf of their very own books that they can keep for as long as they want — and maybe even share with their own children a generation from now.