BY MELANIE BUCK –
Author George R.R. Martin said in his book, A Dance with Dragons, “A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies, said Jojen. The man who never reads lives only one.” Such is the life that the Dolly Parton Imagination Library project hopes that all children can live, and with partnerships like the one they have with Quality of Life Outreach in Mena, will assure that many children will live such a life.
The Dolly Parton Imagination Library was launched in 1955 when Parton wanted to foster a love of reading among children and their families by ensuring every child would have books regardless of their families’ income. Due to the popularity of the program, in 2000, the program was made available through community partnerships. By 2017, the program has more than one million children registered across four countries. Parton said, “The seeds of these dreams are often found in books and the seeds you help plant in your community can grow across the world.”
Charlotte Wiles and Mary Ditzel head up the partnership with the Imagination Library that is currently supporting 28 children in Polk County that receive one book apiece each month. Wiles said, “Reading increases a child’s ability to gain educational attainment. The kids receive lifelong benefits from reading and being read to each day. Research shows that having a book in the home and a child being read to daily increases their vocabulary, and having twenty or more books in the home shows a significant difference.” Reading has also been shown to improve language skills, general knowledge, attention and social-emotional skills, and math skills.
The program is available to children birth to five years of age and designed to improved school readiness of children. According to James J. Heckman, a Nobel Laureate in Economics, among other accolades, said, “A critical time to shape productivity is from birth to age five, when the brain develops rapidly to build the foundation of cognitive and character skills necessary for success in school, health, career, and life.”
Each year, a committee of professionals selects the books to be mailed for that year, as age-appropriate books are sent directly to the child’s home each month. Although the program is free for the child, Wiles explained that it takes community support to insure that all registered children receive the books. It costs $25 per year for each child, or $125 for five years, totaling 60 books.
Funding for the project is reliant upon donations. Wiles hopes they are able to continue to add more children to their list of recipients. An upcoming fundraiser will help with funds, but more will be needed. On Friday, Saturday, February 11, they will host a bake sale at Mena Walmart from 10 a.m. – 4p.m. All proceeds raised in Polk County, stay in Polk County to support local children receiving the monthly gifts.
Wiles also explained that all children in the home receive their own set of books each month so siblings can all register without fear of getting the same books each month.
“We want children to have books in the home that help prepare them for school,” said Wiles. “If we have well-educated children that are prepared at home, they are more likely to go to college and get an education, and that’s a benefit for our community.”
If you have questions about the program, would like to donate, or would like to register a child, contact Charlotte Wiles at 479-234-5069 or Mary Ditzel at 479-216-9329. You can also learn more on their website, www.qoloutreach.org.