United Way reading program marks success

8 years ago

Imagination Library to mail 50,000th free book to a County child

DOLLYLIBRARY 17930351Contributed photo
Bonnie Foster, United Way of Aroostook and ACAP board member, left, and Diane Green, Presque Isle Kiwanis member, recently helped UWA celebrate a 50,000-book milestone with the Dolly Parton Imagination Library Program by reading to children at the ACAP Early Care and Education Center in Presque Isle, from left, Brooklyn Beaulieu, Lucas Potter, Aliyah Saucier and Aikam Sharma.


In the coming month, the United Way of Aroostook (UWA) will send out its 50,000th free book to a preschool-age child in northern Maine through the Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library. That milestone was celebrated yesterday, and a new challenge that looks to expand the program launched at ACAP Early Care and Education Center/Gouldville in Presque Isle.

The Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library is a nationwide initiative that launched locally in 2010. Each month the program puts a new book in the hands of families with children from birth to age 5 at no cost to them.

“Our dream of providing books to all the children of Aroostook is becoming a reality one registration form at a time,” said Sherry Locke, executive director of UWA. “I am so thankful that we are able to offer this program to all children living in Aroostook County. Sending 50,000 books is just an amazing milestone for us, as we grow this program we are strengthening children, families and our communities.”

Locke, other United Way officials and leaders with ACAP were joined for the announcement by representatives of Aroostook County’s four hospitals and four area civic organizations who have supported the project, allowing it to reach substantially greater numbers of children over the past few years. TAMC, Cary Medical Center, Houlton Regional Hospital and Northern Maine Medical Center, along with the Presque Isle Kiwanis Club, Presque Isle Rotary Club, Mars Hill Rotary Club, and Caribou Rotary Club were all acknowledged for their support of the project.

“In 2013, the United Way reached a partnership with the four area hospitals and the program really exploded. That year, the number of kids receiving Dolly books shot up to over 700. Not only were the hospitals supporting the program financially, but they also were signing up all babies born at their facility,” said Locke.

“In the next 12 months the number nearly doubled. In 2014 we were sending books to nearly 1,400 Aroostook County children each month. Today, with the support of the hospitals and additional funding from the four community organizations, the program continues to thrive and we are sending nearly 1,900 books to the children of Aroostook and 700 children have graduated from the program.”

Among the hundreds who have graduated from the program is 5-year-old Peyton Chandler of Mapleton. The recent kindergarten graduate spoke briefly at the celebration, telling those gathered what it meant to him to receive a brand new book in the mail each month.

“I liked getting the books in the mail,” said Chandler, who, when asked which was his favorite book, responded: “I don’t have a favorite one because they are all my favorites.”

Also expressing her appreciation was Jessica Ouellette of Presque Isle, the mother of two daughters — 7-year-old Julia and 5-year-old Jillian. Jillian, who just celebrated her birthday, received her last book in May.

“The girls look forward to receiving the books! Even though Julia is too old to be a recipient through the Dolly’s Imagination Library program, she does enjoy reading the books to her sister. I love that the books are delivered in correlation with the child’s age and comprehension level. Our first few books were board books and got increasingly more challenging up until Jillian’s last book which is a story about going into kindergarten,” said Ouellette.

“These books encourage family time and reading. The program also enhances the child’s imagination and literacy skills — not to mention the girls love getting mail! We may not get to read together as often as we would like, but these books have reminded us to stop our busy schedule to spend a little more time reading,” she added.

In addition to celebrating the milestone and serving as a thank you to project contributors, the event was about looking forward to what comes next for the Imagination Library program in Aroostook County.

With the partnership of the four County hospitals who are helping to sign up families before the mother is discharged after delivering her baby, the number of newborns, 1- and 2-year-olds enrolled in the project has grown substantially. The numbers drop off with 3- and 4-year-olds, which is where Aroostook County Action Program (ACAP) is pleased to step in.

“Our Head Start, Early Head Start and Child Care staff across Aroostook County has supported the United Way of Aroostook’s Dolly Parton Imagination Library Program since it was first launched region-wide. Early literacy is an important component of ACAP Family Services. We introduce literacy concepts through our curriculum and work with families to extend those lessons beyond our doors and into their homes. Early learning and literacy experiences have been linked to academic achievement and enhanced productivity in adult life,” said Jamie Chandler, assistant director, ACAP Family Services.

“We are pleased to announce that we are redoubling our efforts in the coming months to connect with all of our families and encourage them to sign up. Additionally, we are challenging all of our friends and colleagues in child care and preschool education to join us and do the same so that together we can get as many County children, under the age of 5, as possible enrolled in this wonderful program.” she added.

Following the announcement and brief celebration, representatives from the four hospitals and four civic organizations visited the classrooms of children attending ACAP’s Early Care and Education Center/Gouldville to read books made available through the Dolly Parton Imagination Library Program. Afterward, the books read were donated to each classroom.

The Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library, launched in 1995 in east Tennessee, came to Aroostook County in 2010. It was started by a group of volunteers from the St. John Valley who saw the value in school readiness and literacy. As the program continued to grow the group of volunteers came to the UWA for support. The Board of Directors at the UWA fell in love with the program and formally adopted the Imagination Library.