Live United: Help share the joy of reading with children in community

Published 8:45 pm Friday, July 23, 2021

Live United by Erin Haag

My biggest hobby and way to relax is by reading. I read every day and can read for hours. Sitting outside in the sunshine, in a warm bubble bath, in the car, at the dinner table — I read. Years ago, my husband and I used to drive over 14 hours to visit his parents. We’d go for at least a week, so I always had a backpack full of books. One Christmas, they presented me with a Kindle, so I wouldn’t have to haul so many books around. Well, I was pretty skeptical. I didn’t think I’d enjoy electronic reading — but I did. Once I figured out I could get library books through my Kindle, it was game on.

Erin Haag

In my house though, I’m conscious that I want my children to know I read. My Kindle has been upgraded a few times — because I read so much I literally wear them out. It’s never a tablet, or a Kindle Fire — it’s a straight up electronic reader. No games. No internet. Just reading books. My children call it, “Mommy’s book,” and I’ve made sure that they see the pictures of the book covers and the “bookshelf” so they know I’m not doing anything but reading. True confession though. I hate to read aloud, and I hate being read to. Something about it is like nails on chalkboard for me. It’s a huge struggle for me, because I know how important it is for children to be read to. So off we go to story time at the library. Daddy reads to the kids, and of course, I manage to read to the kids as well. It got a little harder when they were old enough to figure out I skipped some of the pages in the books though.

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This summer, my 9-year-old has been going to story time. I heard that Miss Patty worried that they might not have a good time since it’s geared for younger children. She thought that their caregiver was “making” them go. Absolutely not. Even 9-year-olds love to sit by the lake and sing songs and have stories read to them. My daughter was a little bummed that yesterday was the last one for the summer. She’s looking forward to book clubs in the fall though.

My love of books and the love my children have for books is a big part of why I love our Imagination Library program. It started with a grant in 2013, and grew to over 28,441 free, age appropriate books being mailed to children. While it’s open to anyone birth through age 5, we target families that are high risk, that may not have the time or ability to buy books, or get to the library to borrow books. Healthy Families through Public Health helps parents sign up through their home visiting program, and show families ways to engage with their children with these books. The Public Health nurses are passionate about this program, saying that they’ve seen the results with their own eyes — and they offer up sponsorships out of their own paycheck to keep it going. Imagination Library is the No. 1-designated program we have, and Albert Lea Area Schools employees lead the charge in pledging their paychecks for it.

All good things come to an end though, and the original grant is long gone. We were fortunate enough to secure another grant, but that too is ending. It’s long past time that UWFC takes a good hard look at this program and develops a strategy to make this program sustainable. Grants are great, but they’re not a guarantee. While the books themselves are free through the Dolly Parton Foundation, the shipping and administrative costs are not. Imagination Library costs approximately $30 per child, per year — totally $150 for five years of the program. Right now, our waiting list is about six months long.

UWFC is also taking a look at the service clubs. Who is distributing books? I’ve heard of a few, but if you’re a member of a service club, I’d love to have the information on the club, the club meeting times, mission and if you’re handing out books. Are there challenges with your book distribution, or what’s the best part of it? Is there a way for the clubs to come together with UWFC to meet a purpose — to get books in the hands of our children? 

I have a few ideas, but what I need is a team to help me brainstorm and implement the ideas. If you’re interested in learning more give me a call. In a few weeks I’ll be hosting a meeting for those interested to come and share ideas, ask questions and if it works for them — to sign up for a committee. There is no commitment in coming and sharing ideas — or even sharing contacts of someone that might be able to help us. I promise not to sign you up to sell raffle tickets just for showing up to share ideas. Once I get a few people, I’ll share when our meeting date is in another article.

If you’d like to sponsor a child, simply mail a check for $30 or more,  made out to United Way of Freeborn County, with Imagination Library in the memo line. Our address is PO Box 686, Albert Lea, MN 56007.

To call and ask to be on the list to be notified of the meeting date, our number is 507-373-8670.

Erin Haag is the executive director of the United Way of Freeborn County.