March 2, 2022
Yes, you read that right! United Way of Whatcom County has recently signed on as the local affiliate for Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library, a world-wide program that sends free books each month to kids aged birth to five.
Since launching in 1995, Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library has become the most recognized early childhood book gifting program in the world. The flagship program of The Dollywood Foundation, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, Imagination Library mails more than 1.8 million high-quality, age-appropriate books to registered children each month. Dolly created the program in honor of her father, who never learned to read. In doing so, she envisioned fostering a lifelong love of reading in children everywhere, inspiring them to dream big.
This much-loved program promotes reading skills, family time, and school readiness. Any child under the age of 5 living in Whatcom County is eligible to enroll.
Registered children receive an age-appropriate book in the mail each month addressed specifically to them. The books are selected by a national committee of early childhood literacy experts with the intent to provide a variety of inclusive and diverse titles that cover feel good topics. The Blue Ribbon Book Selection Committee takes great care in choosing books that meet the different needs of children as they progress from birth to age five. There two bi-lingual books (English/Spanish) per child per year. Books are also offered in braille.
Kids receive books from time of enrollment until their fifth birthday, at which time they receive a letter from Dolly printed in the last book (Look Out Kindergarten, Here I Come) encouraging them to continue with their love of books and learning.
Participation in the Imagination Library program is positively and significantly associated with higher measures of early language and math development. Research indicates the program is extremely popular in the communities where its implemented and shows promise in promoting changes in home literacy environments, children’s attitudes toward reading, and early literacy skills.
Making sure Whatcom County kids have access to high quality early learning opportunities, childcare, and parent support programs is a critical element of United Way's work to break the cycle of poverty in our community. When we give kids and families the tools and opportunities they need to be successful, everybody wins.
“We are thrilled to be able to bring Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library to Whatcom County kids and families,” says United Way Community Impact Manager Patricia Boyce. “We know kids love getting books in the mail, but we also know this program has been proven to promote literacy and school readiness. This is more critical than ever to help offset the learning slide we’re seeing as a result of Covid-19. This extremely low-barrier reading program will help promote pandemic literacy recovery throughout our community, and we are so excited to be able to help.”
The launch of Imagination Library in Whatcom County coincides with a larger effort to expand the program throughout Washington State.
Many local United Ways have committed to this work by stepping up as affiliates and agreeing to take on the program in their respective counties. The statewide rollout is also receiving a high level of support from the Washington Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) with $2 million in matching funds to make the program more cost effective for regional affiliates to administer. The Dollywood Foundation covers a substantial portion of Imagination Library expenses. Local affiliates are responsible for funding the program at a cost of $25 per year per child. This covers 12 new books each year plus shipping.
United Way of Whatcom County will be partnering with a variety of organizations locally to maximize the success of this program and reach as many kids as possible. We want every child in Whatcom County to be able to benefit from having Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library available in our community. Our goal is to foster a love of reading and prepare our littlest learners for long-term success in school and life.