Clark, Champaign counties work to start literacy program

Dolly Parton Imagination Library would put free books in homes of children ages 0 to 5

Clark County leaders hope a program aimed at improving literacy rates among young children will ultimately effect lives beyond school and into their adult careers.

Literacy effects health, income and jobs in every community, according to several national studies. That’s why the United Way of Clark, Champaign and Madison Counties wants to start Dolly Parton Imagination Library programs in each of its counties, Executive Director Kerry Pedraza said.

READ MORE: Clark County jail moms record stories for kids

Dolly Parton Imagination Library sends one free book per month to a child between the ages of birth and 5 years old. The books are tailored to be age appropriate for each child.

Literacy shouldn’t just be a concern to teachers and educators, Pedraza said, but the entire community.

“It’s truly the foundation for everything and has an incredibly long effect,” she said. “It’s not just about being kindergarten ready but is a huge determinant about how well a person does in school and beyond.”

The cost the nonprofit to run the program is $2.25 per book each month, Pedraza said, or about $25 per year per child.

Clark, Champaign and Madison counties are each at different stages through United Way of kicking off campaigns to start the program.

The goal is to raise a total of $60,000 to start the program — $30,000 in Clark County and $15,000 in each Champaign and Madison counties, Pedraza said. The group will need to continue raising that same amount each year so that the service continues.

“We don’t want to start a program and not have enough money to finish it,” she said.

The program sends books to more than 1 million children every month in the U.S., Canada, the United Kingdom and Australia.

More than 32 million adults in the U.S. can’t read, according to the most recent national studies by the U.S. Department of Education and the National Institute of Literacy. That’s 14 percent of the population. The study also reports that 21 percent of adults in the U.S. read below a fifth grade level and 19 percent of high school graduates can’t read.

RELATED: Logan County unveils program to give children free books

United Way organizers have spoken to school districts across Clark and Champaign counties about whether or not the program would be a benefit.

More than 400 preschoolers are currently enrolled in the Springfield City School District, Springfield Superintendent Bob Hill said.

Preschool teachers see a wide range of literacy skills in their students, he said, but in many cases the skills are lacking.

“Many of our students don’t necessarily have the literacy in their homes,” Hill said.

Northeastern High School staff enthusiastically welcomed the idea of the Dolly Parton Imagination Library, Principal Allyson Thurman said.

She said the program also sends a needed message to parents — literacy starts in the home and parents need to get involved.

Many parents in Clark County know they need to work with their children on reading and teaching initial skills, Thurman said, but face challenges.

“Families realize the importance but it’s the ability to have access to the books,” she said.

Children enrolled in Imagination Library score 25 percent higher on third-grade reading tests than children who weren’t involved in the program, according to data from the organization.

The program is free and open for all children, Pedraza said, and it doesn’t matter where they live the community or how much income a family has.

United Way in Clark County is starting a new fundraising initiative called the Women’s Giving Society to sponsor the Dolly Parton Imagination Library. A committee has been formed, Pedraza said, and they plan to hold a Feb. 10 fundraiser called Power of the Purse.

Anyone interested in signing up a family for the Dolly Parton Imagination library or getting involved in fundraising or donating to the project can contact the local United Way office.

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