Imagination Library sends free book each month

Wednesday, January 12, 2022
Skyler Bowman, right, and Evan Bowman, 3, of Cassville, look at books available in the Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library program. Teresa Phillips, of Exeter, and Community Faith Chapel run the program in Exeter and Cassville, delivering free books to children from birth to age 5. Contributed photo

Phillips: ‘Reading opens the imagination’

Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library has taken the country by storm since 1995 for the children in her home county.

The program’s inspiration came to Parton from her father’s inability to read or write. It aims to put a book in a child’s hands every month from birth until age 5.

Regan Phillips, 3, looks at one of the free books set up at the Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library Program signup event Saturday at Diva Bling and The Tiny Highlander Boutique. Kyle Troutman/editor@cassville-democrat.com

However, this program relies heavily on community support. The Dollywood Foundation gets the books to the children, but the community partners manage the wholesale cost of books, as well as the registration process.

Teresa Phillips, local program manager, in cooperation with Community Faith Chapel, have taken on that task to bring those books to the Cassville (65625) and Exeter (65647) area codes.

In 2000, Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library expanded from her home county to serve any community with a local program manager, dubbed Imagination Library Champions.

Free books for children from birth to age five are available through the Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library Program, now serving Cassville and Exeter. People may sign up online at www.imaginationlibrary.com and with the code MO-MOEXETERCASSVILLE. Kyle Troutman/editor@cassville-democrat.com

Since then, children all over the world are receiving age-appropriate books delivered straight to them.

For the first year, children will receive a book that focuses on the visual and playful side of reading, with broad pages and bright colors. During year two, a child will receive a book each month that continues to build on the concepts built in the previous year. This means easy to use, rhymes, real photo illustration, colors, numbers and letter.

Year three begins to build character and values though reading, as well as focusing on issues like fear, love, conflict and safety. In year four, the stories get more complex involving heroes, complications and resolutions, with a higher diversity in faces, environments and the message that it is ok to be different.

The final year, year five, children will receive books that prepare them for school, while continuing with the rhyming and poetry aspect, nonfiction and folk tales will be introduced.

Phillips and Community Faith Chapel brought this world of imagination and literacy to a local level, and registration for the Imagination Library opened on Jan. 4 for Cassville and Exeter area codes.

“I had heard about the program over the years,” she said. “Recently I saw a Facebook post about it and tried to sign up my two granddaughters, but they weren’t eligible.”

Phillips saw what a great program it was and wondered why it wasn’t available in the area.

“I made contact with the regional director for the Dollywood Foundation, Pam Hunsaker, in August,” Phillips said. “I started gathering all of the information I could.”

Phillips realized she would have to have a 501C3 in order to move forward, so she reached out to her pastor.

“Rick Cooper, the pastor at Community Faith Chapel, said he and the church board would agree to partner,” she said. “We sent everything for approval and now we are open for registration.”

Online registration opened on Jan. 4, and Phillips organized an in-person registration on Saturday.

“In some states, the governor can approve for the whole state to have funding,” Phillips said. “But, Missouri is not one of them.

“It costs $25 per child, per year, for a child to receive a book every month.”

When it comes to funding the program, Phillips said she has a goal of keeping it up a year ahead of schedule.

“My goal is to raise funds for 2022 and 2023 this year,” she said. “It will rely on donations from local clubs, businesses and individuals.

“There are grants available that I will look into, as well as fundraising events, but that will be in the future as I don’t have anything planned just yet.”

Phillips said registration is easy, but funding is the hard part.

“Reading increases the vocabulary and understanding of words,” she said. “Reading opens the imagination and helps build and prepare for school.

The earlier children start out reading, the easier their transition to school will be.

“I thought this was a great program,” Phillips said. “And it feels great to do something for the kids. I appreciate any sponsorship.”

As of December 2021, 172 million books have been distributed by Imagination Library. In Missouri, 51 towns, cities or school districts, including Cassville and Exeter area codes have registered to be a community partner with Imagination Library.

Phillips’ goal is to add more towns in the future if funding is available, but the current focus is on keeping the program going where it is now.

Children may register online at www.imaginationlibrary.com using the affiliate MO-MOEXETER CASSVILLE.

Contact email for questions regarding registration or sponsorship is ECDPIL@yahoo.com.  

Donations can be made online at www.imaginationlibrary.com or mailed to Community Faith Chapel, attention Rick Cooper.

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