When country music legend Dolly Parton was growing up in Locust Ridge, Tenn., she began making up songs even before she learned to read and write. Her vivid and wide-ranging imagination, and her love of storytelling, led her to a career as one of the most successful hit songwriters in the 20th century.
Language and writing were important to her, but due to her humble beginnings she didn’t have much chance to read books since feeding a family that would eventually grow to 12 members left little money to buy them.
That’s why in 1996 Dolly launched an exciting program in her home county in East Tennessee. Her goal was to foster a love of reading in the county’s pre-school children. She decided to mail a brand new, age-appropriate book each month to every child under 5 in Sevier County.
The program, dubbed Imagination Library, was a huge success, and soon other communities were clamoring to bring the program to their children.
In 2004, Warren County became one of those communities. Soon after, the program began to evolve as then-Gov. Phil Bredesen became involved in an effort to provide funding to expand the program across the state. Renamed Books From Birth, Bredesen’s program operated in partnership with Imagination Library.
Meanwhile, Imagination Library, with the help of a Tennessee Press Association donation, and the participation of the Southern Standard, along with some local government and business support, had already become a successful program locally.
The Standard partnered with Magness Library in order to utilize its 501(c)3 status to distribute the books. Over 900 children were signed up in 2004 and began receiving books.
But even with the support from the Governor’s Books From Birth Foundation, funding for the local program has always been an issue. The only reason the children of Warren County have been receiving their books is the generosity of local businesses, like Bridgestone and the Southern Standard, which administers the program, organizations like Noon Rotary Club, as well as private donations.
But with the downturn in the economy, the program, like many others, is in need of funding here in Warren County. If your child, or if you know of a child, who has benefited from this wonderful literacy program, please make a donation to keep these books coming for the children of Warren County. Businesses and organizations are also encouraged to support this program, since state funding appears to be on the wane.
Donations can be sent to Imagination Library, care of the Southern Standard, P.O. Box 150, McMinnville, 37111.