FILE PHOTO — Peter Abbarno, Twin Cities Rotary Members Ron Averill and Catherine Cleveland, Area Director Anil Puri, Centralia Rotary President John Elmore and Centralia Rotary member Arnie Guenther pose during a recent Dolly Parton Imagination Library Sign-up Event at Centralia Library.

In mid-March, when COVID-19 closures began to hit Lewis County, many parts of our lives came to a screeching halt. 

Except the Dolly Parton Imagination Library. That kept chugging right along.

Lewis County’s three Rotary Clubs and the United Way of Lewis County formed a partnership last year to bring the library to Lewis County in an effort to further goals they all share — promoting literacy, kindergarten readiness and reducing systemic poverty. They started signing kids up about eight months ago, funded by an early donation of $20,000 from the Rotary clubs. 

The program mails a book every month to children from birth to five years old at no cost to their families. Overall, the program, founded by singer Dolly Parton, delivers 130 million books to children each year. 

As of Tuesday, 1,524 children in Lewis County were enrolled in the program. With an estimated 4,585 children from birth to 5 years old in Lewis County, that means the program has reached more than 30 percent of eligible children in the area. 

Centralia Rotary President Elect-Erica Palkovitz noted the Imagination Library organization considers 20 percent penetration in a programs first year to be a success. 

“We’ve had a phenomenal eight months for this program,” said Angela French, resource development director for United Way of Lewis County. 

Ultimately, the groups’ goal is to have 50 to 60 percent of children in Lewis County up to age 5 enrolled in the program. Imagine the good 12 books a year could do for that many children.  

The majority of kids signed up live in Centralia and Chehalis, but more than 50 are in Mossyrock, 35 in Morton, 26 in Napavine, 79 in Onalaska and 24 in Pe Ell, among other areas throughout the county. Members of the partner organizations noted the program’s reach as a major success — they don’t want the program to focus only on Lewis County’s major population center, but the rural areas as well. 

It costs the local groups $25 to buy a year’s worth of books for each child. After the Rotary clubs’ initial donation, the first major fundraiser for the program was scheduled to be United Way’s annual Chef’s Night Out in May. However, social distancing requirements and stay-home orders meant gathering hundreds of people together for a banquet just wouldn’t be possible. 

Rather than give up, United Way thought creatively, and shifted the event to a Chef’s Night In.

Despite being completely virtual, the Raise the Paddle portion of the auction — entirely dedicated to the Dolly Parton library — raised more than $28,000. 

“(It) really showed us the community is dedicated to this,” French said.

It also showed virtual fundraisers can be successful, she said. The United Way’s Power of the Purse Fundraiser will take place virtually on Aug. 4. 

The success and continued growth of the program owes much to the support of the community, but also to the strong partnership formed by the Chehalis, Centralia and Twin Cities Rotary clubs and United Way, without which thousands of children wouldn’t be getting free books delivered each month. That partnership and cooperation among groups that instead could have chosen to work separately, competing for donations and attention, is encouraging, and should be applauded.

We certainly hope the success of this partnership inspires Lewis County’s many clubs and organizations to continue to work together for the betterment of our county and its families, and strongly encourage those who can to support the program with donation. 

For more information on enrolling or donating to the Dolly Parton Imagination Library, go to

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