Initiative facilitates access to books

Dolly Parton’s program to promote early literacy popular with local families

Dolly Parton is famous for many things, from her buxom figure to her saucy sayings (“You’d be surprised how much it costs to look this cheap”), but a lesser-known credit is earning her big accolades locally.

That accomplishment is her championship of early literacy with her Dolly’s Imagination Library.

In Durango, the Kiwanis Club of Durango has been sponsoring the free book program with families who live in the neighborhoods served by Florida Mesa Elementary School since April 2011. About 50 families are taking part in the program, which delivers a free book each month for children to age 5, when the children will be exposed to more books in kindergarten.

“The families are thrilled,” said Judy Michalski, who heads up the program for Kiwanis. “We’re starting to get calls from families from other schools. Especially at this time of year, they’re really interested in books.”

The program, which costs $25 per child per year for books and postage, is currently costing the Kiwanis Club about $1,300 a year. To enlarge it would require other clubs and individuals to step up, Michalski said.

“As soon as we get a partner, we’re willing to expand it, but we don’t have one yet,” she said.

Meanwhile in Montezuma County, the Cortez Rotary Club adopted the Imagination Library three months ago. Shane Hale, Cortez city manager and Rotary Club officer, brought the program to the club’s attention because his two sons were previous participants.

“The club embraced the idea with open arms and hit the ground with both feet running,” Hale said. “To have a free book mailed to a child once a month is a screaming good deal.”

Parton originally started the program in 1996 as a way to give back to children in her home county in East Tennessee. In 2000, she extended the program to include all communities in the United States. There are now 1,600 communities taking part in the program, and 42 million books have been delivered.

At this time, only families whose children will attend Florida Mesa are eligible in La Plata County. The program is free to the families, and application forms are available at the school. The program bases the book selections on the birth date of the child. Families may sign up more than one child.

In Montezuma County, any resident with a child 5 or younger may fill out a short registration pamphlet – available at the Cortez, Dolores, Mancos and Towaoc public libraries – to participate.

A list of the books given can be found at www.imaginationlibrary.com by clicking on support center. Every child receives The Little Engine That Could as the first book.

abutler@durangoherald.com

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