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U of O bringing preschool book program to Johnson County

June 10, 2016
By cnp
Posted in Community Service

University of the Ozarks is helping to bring free books to preschool children in Johnson County.

The University is sponsoring the Dolly Parton Imagination Library, a program that provides preschool children a brand new, age-appropriate book per month from birth to the fifth birthday.

In addition to U of O sponsoring the Imagination Library’s Johnson County program, the River Valley United Way is providing administrative support and generous donors in the local community are aiding with financial support.

"Providing children with quality books is a simple way to start them on the path to educational success," said U of O President Richard Dunsworth. "We hope this program will stimulate a life-long love for reading and give families additional opportunities to read together."

Once preschool children are registered in the program, they will start receiving free books in the mail. There are no income requirements and every child in the county under the age of 5 is eligible to register for the books.

The Dollywood Foundation is a 501c(3) non-profit foundation founded by Dolly Parton to support educational projects and improve the quality of life in Parton’s native Sevier County, Tennessee. The mission of the foundation is to share the life and legacy of Parton as an inspiration for children to "Dream More…Learn More…Care More…and Be More."

The Imagination Library is a 60-volume home library for preschool children. It was created to stimulate children’s imaginations and encourage reading within the family at an early age. A panel of child educators selects the books for the library each year, always beginning the series with a special copy of "The Little Engine That Could."

The experiences of thousands of families, as well as research in child development, affirm the benefits of early learning experiences for children. Research shows that activities such as reading regularly with children, beginning in infancy, can produce a significant growth in I.Q., which lasts a child’s lifetime. Parents are the first and most important teachers their children will ever have. "I hope that every family in Johnson County will experience the joy and wonder of their children’s imaginations as they learn about the world and it’s many surprises," Parton said. "If we can help turn the dreams of a child into the promise of a bright future, then one of my biggest dreams will come true."

In December of 1999, Parton announced that she would extend the opportunity to communities to replicate The Imagination Library in their own area. While each community must financially support its own effort, the foundation provides technical assistance in setting up the program, assists with public relations and marketing materials, works with Parton on national/international promotional efforts, and convenes the growing network to inspire, share, and innovate. The foundation also manages the composition of the library and coordinates the ordering and mailing of the books to maximize cost effectiveness. Since the inception of the program, The Dollywood Foundation has mailed over 75 million books.

"By working with the Dollywood Foundation, we can implement this program in Johnson County for only $25 per child enrolled per year," said Dunsworth. "That’s only $2.10 per month for the book and the mailing of the book directly to the child’s home."

The program has also received support from the Clarksville Rotary Club, Mustard Seed and the Concerned Citizens of Johnson County organization.

Registration in Johnson County is currently underway for the program. If a child is registered by July 31, he or she will receive their first book in the mail in early September. Anyone interested in registering a child or in helping support the program is encouraged to contact the River Valley United Way
at 479-968-5089, or at P.O. Box 636, Russellville, AR 72811.

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Preschoolers and their parents gathered in Robson Library for the announcement of the University’s sponsorship of the Dolly Parton Imagination Library