Imagination Library

Free book program available in Randolph County

Image courtesy of Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library was launched in 1995 in an effort to create a love of reading to all children, regardless of their family’s income. It now reaches children in more than 1,600 communities, including Randolph County.

ELKINS — Local volunteers hope to open up the world of reading to Randolph County children, as part of a free program that provides a new book each month up to age 5.

The program is part of Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library, and it is being presented locally by the Davis Medical Center Auxiliary and Randolph County Schools. Any child who lives in Randolph County and was born after Jan. 1, 2014, is eligible.

“The single most important activity for children to prepare them for life is to read regularly — preferably every day,” said Cindy Stemple, one of the program organizers. “If we can get them off to the best possible start, it will benefit everyone in the community.”

She said local parents and grandparents can sign up any eligible child, and information is available by calling DMC Volunteer Services at 304-637-3896.

Many families have learned about the program through Davis Medical Center, where volunteers try to share information with parents before newborns are sent home from the hospital. This allows parents to not only register their newborns to receive the free, age-appropriate books, but it also lets them hear about the importance of reading to their children from birth.

Information given to parents says reading aloud to babies teaches communication skills and introduces concepts such as numbers, letters, colors and shapes in a fun way. It also exposes children to more words and increases their language skills, building “a rich network of words in a baby’s brain.”

Another handout about the program includes reading tips, such as reading with silly voices and letting babies touch and grab pages of sturdy books.

Stemple and fellow program organizer Valerie Bright spoke recently to the Randolph County Board of Education, providing board members with an update on the program and its funding. Stemple said receiving books at home adds to excitement and increases children’s reading test scores, according to research in other areas of the country where Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library takes place.

Bright said sponsoring one child for a year costs $25, and the costs are currently covered with a mix of grant funding approved by the Randolph County Board of Education, the Davis Medical Center Auxiliary, community sponsors and individuals. It started in Randolph County in 2014, and there are no administrative costs. The funding is used “purely to pay for books,” she said.

“We’re trying to keep this program going for years to come,” Bright added.

Donna Auvil, president of the Board of Education, said she wants to see the program expand to all eligible children in Randolph County.

“We should be reaching out to every child,” she said in a recent board meeting.

One of the many babies who are receiving books is 7-month-old Maggie, whose mother, Jennifer Workman, teaches at Jennings Randolph Elementary School.

“It’s awesome,” Workman said about the program, adding that her baby loves looking at the books and trying to grab them. “They’re high-quality board books and very age-appropriate for early literacy, coming from a first-grade teacher’s standpoint.”

Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library was launched in 1995 to benefit the children of the country music star’s home county in Tennessee, according to information on the program website. Parton’s vision was to foster a love of reading among preschool children by providing them with a special book each month, regardless of their family’s income. By mailing high-quality, age-appropriate books directly to their homes, she wanted children “to be excited about books and to feel the magic that books can create.”

In 2000, the program was made available to any community that was willing to create a partnership. Since the initial program launch in the United States, Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library has gone from just a few dozen books to more than 80 million books mailed to children in the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom, according to the program’s website. Currently more than 1,600 communities reach more than 1 million children each and every month through Imagination Library.

In addition to Randolph County, the Imagination Library program also is offered locally in Tucker, Barbour, Pocahontas and Upshur counties.

Those wishing to help support the Davis Medical Center Auxiliary Imagination Library Project can contact Bright in the Volunteer Services Department at 304-637-3896.

More information also is available online at imaginationlibrary.com.

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