The Buena Vista Rotary and Salida Sunrise Rotary are celebrating five years of sponsoring Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library in the county this year.
The program, which has spread from Parton’s home of Sevier County, Tenn., across the country, provides children ages 0-5 with a new, free book each month.
“They get a book, delivered in the mail, addressed to them, that is selected by Dolly’s international organization for quality and age appropriateness,” said Buena Vista Rotary member J. David Holt. “What we do locally is we have to raise money, because it costs $25 per child, per year.”
In the five years that area rotary clubs have been sponsoring the Imagination Library, the program now serves 140 children in the Buena Vista School District area, Leadville and Hartsel he said.
A news release from the Salida Rotary Club said that 500 children are registered with the program in Chaffee County.
A survey conducted by the Buena Vista and Salida Rotary Clubs found that 97% of participating families felt that their children were building better literacy skills because of the program.
In the survey, 100 percent of all respondents in Buena Vista said that their child “displays excitement and joy when a new book arrives each month.”
In BV, 86.67% said that their child brings books to others and asks to be read to more often and that their child has an increased interest in reading books on their own.
“We’ve received donations from Monarch Ski Area, from Wal-Mart, the local marijuana excise tax has given us some monies the last two years,” Holt said.
Holt said that, aside from raising money, one of the biggest challenges is “letting people know that the program is available, and letting people know in addition how important early reading is.”
Everybody has their own story of how they were called to public service. For Holt: “I’m in Rotary because of Dolly Parton.”
He credits his son’s success in academics, then his success in his career as a mechanical engineer, with “being read to constantly as a child.”
“I heard about the program 3 or 4 years ago and was just overwhelmed that Dolly had put together a program to gift these books to families at no cost,” Holt said. “When I heard about the program, I wanted to start the program in Chaffee County. I did my research and found that it existed through the Rotary Club, and then I went to my first Rotary meeting.”
According to the National Institute on Reading, “the single most important factor in influencing a child’s early education success is an introduction to books and being read to prior to beginning school.”
“We not only send the books, but with each book is a small manual that gives parents tips on how to read and discuss the book with their children, so it becomes this thing of not only early reading, but interaction between parent and child,” Holt said.