Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library serving Blount County’s children
By Matthew Stewart | (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library program started in Sevier County, but Blount Countians have tried to make the program their own.
The Imagination Library program began in Sevier County in 1996. Organizers took the program statewide in 2004. After learning about the program, Maryville Kiwanis Club’s Herb Meyer met with state Sen. Doug Overbey, R-Maryville, then a state representative, to discuss the program. Overbey later helped Meyer obtain information about the literacy program.
“I thought it was an ideal fit,” Meyer said. “Kiwanis International is dedicated to changing the world, one child and one community at a time.”
Service club members later approached the Blount County Commission and expressed their interest in sponsoring a local program, he said. After commissioners approved the venture, local organizers kicked off the local program at the 2005 Foothills Fall Festival.
Volunteers registered 1,791 children, which was a state record at the time, Meyer said. They were later recognized at a statewide meeting for their efforts.
Since its establishment, Blount County’s Imagination Library has mailed 379,800 books to registered children, birth to 5 years old. Organizers mail about 4,400 books per month, which reach about 63 percent of the county’s eligible children.
Parents can sign up at the Blount County Public Library, online, at pediatrician’s offices, United Way of Blount County, Good Samaritan Clinic and Blount Memorial Hospital. Parents are encouraged to sign up their newborns so they will receive all 60 books. The BMH Birthing Center provides registration forms at the time of birth.
Postal workers return an estimated 2 percent of program books each month due to bad addresses. Kiwanis volunteers pick up these books and then check for correct addresses.
If the volunteers can’t locate the addressee, they relabel the books and make them available to others. Children can register at the Blount County Public Library to start receiving these books.
Kiwanians also donate leftover books to local churches and schools. They recently donated 50 books to Prospect Elementary School and 35 books to St. Paul A.M.E. Zion.
Elected officials, parents and teachers support the literacy program.
“Imagination Library has been an important part of our children’s learning to read,” said parent Jonathan Dockery. “They have always been excited to see and read the new book that they’ve received in the mail. Once a month, we get to spend quality family time reading and discussing their new story.”
“Reading is the foundation of a lifetime of learning,” said Trevis Gardner, a Blount County Board of Education member. “Our public education system cannot be effective if our students do not have the ability to explore and nurture a love for reading at early ages. Without the stimulating and engaging books provided by the Imagination Library so many of our students would be at an even further disadvantage.”
“Reading opens interesting doors to the world that stimulate imagination, resulting in learning,” said retired teacher Martha Cobb. “Families that share books create a positive learning environment and instill self-confidence in their children. When reading is fun and second-nature, children are placed on a road to success.”
The program’s $2 cost for each book is funded one-half by Kiwanis and the other half by the Governor’s Books from Birth Foundation.
The Blount County Imagination Library’s annual cost is about $100,000, according to its website. Maryville Kiwanis Club raises more than $50,000 per year.
Community partners, including Advanced Catalyst Systems, Belk, Clayton Homes, New Providence Presbyterian Church and United Way of Blount County, provide financial support to the local program, Meyer said. The service club also provides funds from its golf tournament and pancake breakfast.
Maryville Kiwanis Club plans to kick off fundraising efforts July 28 for the literacy program, he said. The service club hopes to raise $10,000, which would fund the program for about two months.
“We’re reaching out to the community for financial support to help us continue providing this important program,” Meyer said.
Kiwanians are working to offer a matching grant. They’re contacting businesses, organizations and private individuals for their assistance.