Country music star’s initiative having an impact on area kids

The Imagination Library

Whether it’s a couple of months before your child heads off to school for the first time—or a few years—it’s never too soon to get them geared up to learn. Sometimes that takes a little imagination—Imagination Library, that is.



Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library, a non-profit literacy program, has come to Gunnison and Hinsdale County after getting its start through a fund at the country singer’s Dollywood Foundation in 1995.
Now, any child in the county, from birth to age five, can be enrolled to receive one book per month that, if read to them, can “foster a love of reading among preschool children and their families,” according to the group’s website.
After a local businesswoman and mother of two grown children saw the program featured in an issue of The Rotarian magazine, she decided it was just what the county needed to ensure local kids had a chance to succeed from the beginning.
“I think reading to children at an early age just helps them in so many ways, not just in reading but in school and life. It helps kids get a leg up,” says Brenda Kiester, owner of Furey Land Surveying Inc. who provided the seed funds for the Gunnison branch of the program. “For me it was just a no-brainer. It was cheap, it was effective and far-reaching.”
The magazine featured the program in March this year and by the end of that month, Kiester had already set up the framework for the Imagination Library with the help of Pam Montgomery, executive director of the Community Foundation of Gunnison Valley, which provides the organization to channel the funding in the proper direction.
“When I was visiting with the county health commission and told them about the program, people had tears in their eyes. They were so happy that something like that was coming to the county,” says Montgomery.
The program organizers project that a county can enroll up to 20 percent of the eligible children in their area in the first year of operation. Kiester is already working toward that goal after less than two months, having enrolled more than 100 of a possible 750 children in Gunnison and Hinsdale counties.
If a child is enrolled in the program at birth, he or she will be eligible to receive 60 age-appropriate books in the mail, free of charge. When they turn five years old, there is a graduation ceremony that will be held at the local libraries where the participants will be given a library card.
“Some families don’t have books and this is a way that every kid can have books. Now kids are going to the post office and getting mail that is theirs and having it be a book, and getting excited about that,” says Montgomery. “That’s how we get people excited about reading.”
Families can get information on the Imagination Library at any doctor’s office in the county, libraries, the public health office and anywhere children frequent.
“We’re having people and organizations come back for second batches of brochures,” says Kiester. “It’s great that people are getting excited about it and the word is spreading.”
The first book every child gets through the program is the same: The Little Engine That Could by Watty Piper. Thereafter the books are all high-quality, age-appropriate books, 5 percent to 10 percent of which will be bilingual.
The result? Not only do children become better readers, but literacy for the entire family is encouraged.
“Some of the unintended consequences are that not only kids are more literate but parents are more literate because they are reading with kids,” says Kiester, who also teaches English as a Second Language classes. “If those people have a book that is easy to read and under the auspices of reading to their children they are learning English, then it only makes it better.”
The fund that Kiester set up is designed to sustain the program for the first five years, with a separate fund set up for donations from the public to help cover the $2.80 a month per child costs.
To contribute to the Imagination Library in Gunnison and Hinsdale Counties send donations to Community Foundation of the Gunnison Valley, Early Childhood Literacy Fund, PO 7057, Gunnison, CO 81230.

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