Local United Way prints final book

Published 6:00 pm Sunday, April 7, 2013

The United Way of Freeborn County has printed the last edition in its annual book program.

The book is called “Chuck the Duck Meets New Friends” and has both English and Spanish on its pages. It was written by Charlene Hessler.

“I hope that the kids like it, and that if they bring it home their parents read it so it can start the dialogue,” Hessler said.

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The free book will be given to children in kindergarten, first- or second-grade throughout Freeborn County. Volunteers will read the book to classes of children throughout April.

“Chuck the Duck Meets New Friends”

“Chuck the Duck Meets New Friends”

Hessler worked with Flor Lehocky to have the book translated into Spanish.

United Way Executive Director Ann Austin helped Hessler find Alison Brackey, who illustrated the book.

“Alison drew exactly what I had in my mind,” Hessler said. “I couldn’t be happier.”

The book is about diversity and follows Chuck the Duck as he meets new friends on a farm. Chuck meets Gabby the Goose, who says they can’t be friends because he’s not a goose. Chuck explains that they both have feathers and wings, so they must be similar in some ways.

Hessler, who now works at Agilis, said she worked in public television for more than 15 years, and their mission statement was about diversity and making sure all populations have a voice.

Starting with newborns this year, the United Way’s 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. 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.

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.

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.