Working 9 to 5 on the Dolly Parton Imagination Library for three years to get books in the hands of children from birth to age 5 has paid off for local nonprofits: More than 2,600 Lewis County kids have received nearly 73,000 books at no cost to them or their families.
Angela French, with the Imagination Library of Washington — who spent 14 years with United Way of Lewis County before moving up to the United Way of the Pacific Northwest to help facilitate statewide implementation of the book program — made an appearance at the Twin Cities Rotary Club meeting Friday morning to celebrate the imagination library program’s anniversary in Lewis County.
The program, founded by Parton in 1995, got its start in Washington thanks to a Rotarian from Longview, Brook Fisher-Clark, who is now the executive director of the statewide program. In Lewis County, it has been pushed forward by a partnership between United Way and the Lewis County Rotary Foundation, which includes all the local clubs.
Debbie Fruitman, president of the Twin Cities Rotary Club, said Friday the program has blown through every goal set in the area, noting that Rotarians have raised 76% of the funds necessary for the program in the area and that it took local affiliates less than two years to enroll over 50% of eligible local kids.
“When I went to the Dollywood Foundation conference, they were just amazed. Like, ‘How did you do that? I said, ‘We teamed up with United Way and Rotarians. Again, Imagine Rotary,” Fruitman said as she gestured to a sign with the Rotary’s 2022 slogan.
Across the world, the program mails more than 2 million books to children every year, including bilingual books to help kids learn English and Spanish simultaneously. It’s currently in all but a handful of Washington counties and, when it has been established in all of them, French said Parton will visit the state. Her organization is working on making that goal by next June, she said.
“Ninety-one percent of respondents (to a survey on program enrollees in Washington) saw positive changes in their child in their early literacy skills, social, listening, development and interest in reading,” French told the club on Friday. “This program is making a true impact on kids. … Bonding over books and creating that special time for families is another layer to this program that we’ve been so proud — so, so, so proud — of.”
Thanks to a House bill passed last year, cosponsored by state Rep. Peter Abbarno, R-Centralia, the Legislature will pitch 50% in each year to get the books out. Because of the Dolly Parton Imagination Library’s buying power, books cost less than $2.50 through the program, where they would normally cost closer to $15, French said. Sponsorship of a kid in the program, which sends them books every month, costs around $28 annually.
However, Rotarians on Friday wanted to make it very clear that while the program is “free” to families, it is not “free” to put on.
“It's really about the local affiliates,” French said. “We're going to encourage communities and everybody to connect with their local affiliates, make a gift to the local programs (and) to help them stay alive. Or get involved. As you guys know, (there are) a lot of opportunities to volunteer, too.”
Learn more about the local Rotary foundation on Facebook at @lewiscountyrotaryfoundation.
To donate or volunteer with the library program locally, visit https://www.lewiscountyuw.com/dolly-partons-imagination-library. For the statewide program, head to https://www.imaginationlibrarywashington.org/.