There’s a third-grader in Newton that the McPherson County United Way wants to replicate. That little girl loves reading — and her reading scores are off the charts. So off the charts that teachers and parents could hardly believe what they saw during parent-teacher conferences.
She didn’t get there overnight, and it started a few years ago when she and her brother began watching the family mailbox. Once a month, every month until their fifth birthday, a book arrived in the mail with her name on it. Those books were special, the children would sleep with them for a few days, and parents were asked — almost forced — to read them over and over again. She was the first girl signed up for the Dolly Parton Imagination Library in Harvey County.
That’s just what Karleen Brown of McPherson hopes will happen with her daughter, 18-month-old Lydia. Lydia was the first child signed up for the Dolly Parton Imagination Library - the program that sends books on a monthly basis to children until they turn five.
“I am really excited,” Karleen said. “I understand the importance of reading for Lydia’s development. Reading is the foundation of anything she wants to do. It is how we communicate ideas when we are not face-to-face. For her, reading will help her understand language development. It is an important thing to help her in the future to communicate her ideas and make her impact on the world.”
Karleen operates a tutoring service, helping kids get better grades in school. She sees, daily, the effect of reading on learning — in every subject.
McPherson County United Way is launching the Dolly Parton Imagination Library now — the first books, an edition of “The Little Engine that Could,” will be shipped out in December. Each child signed up will get an age appropriate book every month until they turn 5.
“They are curating books that are specific for your child’s age, and that is something I do not feel confident in doing,” Karleen said. ” I could go out and buy Lydia a ton of books, but if I don’t get her books that are appropriate for her age, then she is not getting the most out of it. The fact that .. there is a committee that curates these books … and I am getting 12 of those every year until she turns 5, that is a big benefit.”
Enrollment in McPherson County began Oct. 14 and nearly 18 percent of the eligible preschool children in McPherson County have already been registered. About 335 children were signed up during a recent “Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library Week.”
“It was a phenomenal first week for the program,” said Executive Director Rob Mackey.
It can take up to three months for books to begin arriving, so Mackey and United Way of McPherson County Community Impact Chair Lara Vanderhoof encourage families to register their children before the end of October when the initial book order will be processed, with the first books arriving by the end of the year.
Books are mailed from Tennessee, Dolly Parton’s home state, where the Imagination Library is headquartered.
“Some would say ‘I can get that at the library,’” Karleen said. “But we all know, with little fingers, that books get ripped or colored in It is nice to have a book, if something were to happen to it, I don’t have to return it to someone else. … It is ‘OK, this is your book to love, to read and to take care of.’”
United Way raised the funds to bring the program to McPherson County.
“We are very grateful to the businesses, individuals, civic groups and foundations who have helped United Way make this program possible,” Vanderhoof said.
Preschool children who have a permanent address in McPherson County are eligible. Children can be registered at United Way’s website at www.unitedway mcpherson.org.