Dolly Parton helps Rotarians spread literacy
Dolly Parton signs a book for a child at an event held by her Imagination Library. Rotary International and the Imagination Library are service partners.
It can be hard to find books in Canada’s vast Yukon. Claire Derome, 2009-10 president of the Rotary Club of Whitehorse-Rendezvous, knows of only one bookstore outside the capital, and in remote areas, access to libraries is also limited. Derome wanted to launch a literacy project that would reach all Yukon communities, and she found one in Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library.
Every month, Imagination Library mails an age-appropriate book to each child in the program, until age five. Research showed that up to 85 percent of families receiving books through the program read to their children every day.
Derome, who has a graduate degree in education, did not need more convincing. “The number of books you have at home is a good indicator of future success in school,” she says. Her Rotary club worked with the Yukon government and the Yukon Literacy Coalition to bring Imagination Library there, and 900 children are currently enrolled. The Dollywood Foundation and the participating community split the program costs; in Yukon, the Whitehorse-Rendezvous club covers the $3.60 per child per month.
Dawn Rochelle, president of the Rotary Club of Jacksonville, N.C., USA, was drawn to Imagination Library because she knew that every cent her club raised would help put a book directly into the hands of a child.
Rochelle, who is executive director of the nonprofit Onslow County Partnership for Children, brought her organization together with Rotary clubs and the local United Way to launch Imagination Library in Jacksonville, which, as home to Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, has many young military families. At Imagination Library’s first local Rotary club presentation, one Rotarian pledged $10,000 on the spot. So far, 170 children are enrolled in the program. “They’re so excited, because they don’t have books at home,” Rochelle says.
Imagination Library does not have income requirements. “Dolly did not want any child to feel singled out or left out,” says David Dotson, president of the Dollywood Foundation. Parton was adamant that the books be new, because of her own experiences growing up with hand-me-downs. And in mailing the books to each young person, she wanted to re-create the joy she felt as a child when the Sears catalog arrived at her home, addressed to her family.
Imagination Library serves children in the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom. In 2001, 2,500 children were participating in the program; today they number almost 700,000. Imagination Library and Rotary International teamed up in 2009, and Rotary clubs are involved in the program in roughly 300 communities.
“I don’t think we could do it without Rotary’s involvement,” Dotson says. “If you look at Rotary’s presence in the world, it may be that the greatest aspect of our relationship is yet to come.”