An early childhood literacy program will pass a milestone this month, as the 100,000th Dolly Parton Imagination Library book in Logan County will reach the hands of a local toddler.
The program, administered locally by United Way of Logan County, was the brainchild of the country music star in 1995, and has since spread worldwide from her Dollywood Foundation based in Tennessee. Enrolled children receive a free book in the mail every month until their fifth birthday.
United Way spreadheaded an effort to bring the program here and the first books were mailed in 2017. Since then, enrollment has grown to 59 percent of the eligible population (any child under the age of five). That percentage ranks second in the State, behind only Shelby County's 65 percent enrollment rate. Monthly distributions range between 1,700 and 1,800 books.
Books are free, but the costs of distribution must be covered by a local provider. Over that time, United Way has invested over $146,000 in the program, which is designed to foster an interest in reading, increase vocabulary, enhance kindergarten readiness, and provide families with more opportunities to read with their young children.
In Fall 2019, United Way signed on with the Ohio Governor's Imagination Library, an initiative to strengthen existing programs and to extend it statewide. Since then, over $54,000 in additional dollars has been leveraged at the state level to supplement Logan County support, keeping the program free and accessible without a waiting list.
"We're excited to celebrate more than 100,000 Imagination Library books distributed in Logan County this month with the Ohio Governor's Imagination Library affiliate, United Way of Logan County," said Ohio First Lady Fran DeWine. "This is an incredible milestone, and we are excited to continue seeing the positive impact these books are having on kids in the county, and across the state."
A study conducted by United Way in three Logan County elementary schools this winter revealed that kindergarteners who received Imagination Library books as preschoolers tested 21 percent higher on their kindergarten assessments than students who did not.
"In addition, think about all the memories created," said Dave Bezusko, United Way's Executive Director. "We all have favorite stories we remember from our childhood. A new generation has stories they'll remember from growing up. Then there's all those snuggles from Mom or Dad, Grandma or Grandpa reading bedtime stories. It's priceless."
"All five of our grandchildren were signed up with the Dolly Parton imagination library," said Bellefontaine Mayor Ben Stahler. "They each looked forward to receiving their monthly book in the mail. It was a special time for them. It was also a time that they could spend reading alone, or with your parents or grandparents. They are each doing well in school and several of them have a real thirst for the next book that they can get their hands on. We are very grateful for the program!"
Parents can enroll their children from birth to age four for free in the program. Registrations can be made online at www.uwlogan.org, any Logan County Library, the Logan County Health District, and local preschools and child care centers, or by calling United Way at (937) 592-2886.