Dolly Parton and Rotary partner to promote reading
Clockwise from bottom left: Rotary Foundation Trustee John Germ, District Governor Ted J. Propes, Dolly Parton, district literacy chair Shauna von Hanstein, District Governor Kenan J. Kern, and District Governor Gary C. Moore. Photo by Holly Sasnett
On 6 March, country music legend Dolly Parton and Rotary International announced a collaborative relationship to begin a new chapter in promoting early childhood reading.
Under the agreement, Rotary clubs in Canada, the United Kingdom, and the United States are encouraged to support the Dollywood Foundation's Imagination Library, which provides a book each month to children from birth until age five.
Local Rotary club participation could include promoting the program within the community, helping to identify and register the children, and paying for the books and mailings.
Citing its impressive role in the polio eradication effort, Parton is proud to have Rotary on her foundation's side, she says.
"This partnership is a marriage made in heaven," says Parton. "Rotary does such good work around the world. This is a big deal for us. We feel proud and honored to be working with such a prestigious organization."
In a public ceremony in Atlanta, Georgia, USA, Rotary Foundation Trustee John Germ joined Parton onstage to make the announcement in front of more than 500 people.
"Our partnership with Parton's foundation will bring tremendous improvement in children's literacy," says Germ, a member of the Rotary Club of Chattanooga, Tennessee. "Dolly is the perfect spokeswoman for promoting early childhood reading."
Parton's impoverished childhood and her father's illiteracy inspired the country singer to create a literacy program in 1996 for preschool children in her native Sevier County, Tennessee.
The Imagination Library spread quickly. Today, it serves 47 states, along with parts of Canada and the United Kingdom, and has provided children with more than 15 million books.
"I love books. Anytime I have spare time, I'm reading a book," says Parton. "My father lived long enough to see this program become a success and was so proud people called me 'the Book Lady.'"
According to the Dollywood Foundation, research shows that preschoolers exposed to reading are more likely to look forward to starting school, do well in class, read at or above grade level, finish high school, and go on to college.
"It's great to start the children when they're little, when they're most impressionable, to teach them how to read, teach them how to learn to love books just as much as I do," says Parton.
The program also helps strengthen families by encouraging positive interaction between parents and children through shared reading.
"Let's face it, when a little child gets a book with their name on it, they're going to run to the nearest family member and badger them until they sit down and read it," says Parton.
The Imagination Library is especially valuable for children in underprivileged families, who may find books to be an unaffordable luxury in today's economic slowdown.
For an annual cost of $28 per child, the Dollywood Foundation sends children registered for the program one book a month, beginning with The Little Engine That Could . The books are age appropriate and range from life lessons to bedtime stories.
About 115 Rotary clubs already participate, and that number will triple with the addition of all 203 clubs in Georgia, the first to sign on under the new agreement. The clubs will work through the Georgia-based Ferst Foundation for Childhood Literacy, with the goal of extending the Imagination Library to all 159 counties in the state.
"For decades, Rotary clubs worldwide have supported literacy programs for children and adults," says Germ. "This collaborative relationship with the Dollywood Foundation will help lift our literacy effort to the next level by promoting early childhood reading."
Parton says she's excited to be working with an organization with so much international reach.
"Rotary has always been willing to do their part in about everything," she says. "Like I always say, you can never do enough, but you can always do something. Just knowing they have all those wonderful clubs all over the world, we can try and help everybody."
Wayne Hearn contributed to this article.