Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library to provide free books to Morgan County children
By Erica Smith
For the Enquirer
The United Way of Morgan County has joined Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library to offer every child in Morgan County under 5 years old a free book every month, regardless of family income.
“For a child that grew up in a home that had books everywhere, I thought we were rich,” said United Way of Morgan County President and CEO Kathleen Ross. “Whenever the Weekly Reader book sales came out, I got to buy two books from the catalog. … I later found out that we really weren’t rich, my parents just liked … books.
“We had such an advantage, at least the books part, because life is so much easier if you can read and comprehend and understand. And it’s been proven. It’s not just what’s happened in my life,” Ross said.
Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library launched in 1995, and currently more than 1,500 children in Morgan County are enrolled. Any child in Morgan County up to age 5, regardless of family income, is eligible to receive one free book a month. The Dollywood Foundation is in charge of choosing the books, and the first book a child will receive is “The Little Engine That Could.”
“This is a dream come true,” Ross said. “Those kids will just enjoy their books. They’ll learn to go to the mailbox, and maybe today’s the day that Dolly sends them a book. I can’t imagine how excited they’ll be.”
Ross said children enrolled in the library will learn more than just the basics.
“These kids will not only learn their colors and their numbers, the alphabet, they will learn how to learn,” she said. “They will learn how to go to school and achieve what they want to achieve in life. What they learn from (ages) zero to 5 can and will affect their lives for the rest of their lives.”
Tanya McCain, Morgan County Schools director of pre-K education, said literacy is important.
“Data shows us that students with books in their homes are more likely to be proficient in school,” she said. “Reading proficiency starts with books, and books are at the heart of early language acquisition. And that language acquisition is key in determining kindergarten readiness and long-term success.”
McCain said she believes all parents have one thing in common.
“Every parent wants something better for their child. This partnership allows us to assist in providing just that,” she said. “As we partner with the Dolly Parton Imagination Library, we provide books for our children in Morgan County aged birth to 5 as we propel them on their pathway to success, one page at a time.”
Ross said it costs $26 to provide one child with books for one year. She said local organizations and companies will help pay for the books. Ross said the state also will assist with funds.
“It’s not free on our end,” she said. “Dolly’s foundation pays for the administration in Sevierville, Tennessee. … Through the state of Alabama and some other wonderful people, we will pay for the books and the postage to get them mailed to our Morgan County kids.”
United Way held a launch celebration for the program Nov. 2 at United Launch Alliance, where some companies and organizations made contributions. Money for the program was donated by Junior League of Morgan County, United Community Bank, United Launch Alliance and Turner Construction.
There is at least a one-month gap, Ross said, between when the adult signs up the child and the child gets their first book due to processing. She said if the child is registered in November, they will likely receive their first book in January. Ross said people can register children on United Way of Morgan County’s website at uwmcal.org.
“There’s a tab at the top that says Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library,” she said. “Or they can just Google Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library, and it’ll show them where to register. They just put in their zip code, and it’ll tell them, yes, it’s available in Morgan County, and they can complete the registration form online.”