Some of the books in the Dolly Parton Imagination Library program. -- Submitted

Archived Story

United Way book to be thing of past

Published 3:30pm Wednesday, December 12, 2012

The annual book program organized by the United Way of Freeborn County will undergo some changes next year.

The previous program gave one book, free of charge, to all children in Freeborn County who were in kindergarten, first- and second-grade. Local companies sponsor the program, and the United Way found local authors to make the books.

The new community book program will use the Dolly Parton Imagination Library, which supplies one book a month to children from birth to age 5.The idea is that the children will have a library of 60 books before they even reach kindergarten.

For a few reasons, the United Way wanted to transition to the Imagination Library program. United Way Executive Director Ann Austin said students in elementary schools have ready access to books in the classrooms and through the library. She wanted to find a way for children who aren’t in school yet to have easy access to books.

“Ninety percent of a child’s development happens before age 5,” Austin said.

Even if the child isn’t read to, just having the books in the house for them to look through increases their learning ability, Austin said.

The United Way is partnering with several local organizations to get the program running. Sponsors of the previous book program still are providing funding for the Imagination Library program, but Austin said to keep the program sustainable they won’t be able to roll the program out to all children in the county under age 5 at first. The estimated cost is $30 per child, per year. Community members can choose to sponsor children in the program. Austin said she hopes to look into grants and possibly hold events in the next year to raise awareness about the program.

Other partners are the county’s public health office and the early childhood staff with Albert Lea Area Schools. Sue Yost, director of Freeborn County Public Health, said her staff who visit new parents at the hospital for the Healthy Families program will speak with parents about the Imagination Library.

“The home-visiting program is to help families ready their children for kindergarten, so this fits right in with our philosophy,” Yost said.

The early childhood coordinator for the Albert Lea School District, Jenny Hanson, plans to be the contact with the schools. She likes that the program supplies hardcover books with different subjects about family, emotions and many different subjects.

“They’re well-known, popular titles,” Hanson said.

The program will start with all newborns who are born in 2013. Austin said the United Way won’t support the program financially, but it will administer the books and work with volunteers. The United Way’s foundation dollars will support the program, as well as grants and donations from community members and local service organizations.

Local mom Sheila Calderon is also helping organize the program, after having seen it when she lived in Rochester. She likes that the program supplies books to all children that are age-appropriate, educational and fun.

“Fewer than half of all kids in the U.S. go to bed with a bedtime story,” Calderon said. “Ultimately reading with children can build a better bond within the family.”

Austin said there will be one last local book published under the previous book program. In 2013, the book “Chuck the Duck Meets New Friends” will come out.