‘Imagination Library’ brings real books to local children

Published 12:00 am Saturday, April 28, 2012



LAPLACE – With the help of St. John Parish School leaders and government officials, the St. John United Way on Wednesday set in motion a new literacy program that will provide all local preschool children with a series of free age-appropriate books each month.

The program, known as “Imagination Library,” promotes early childhood education and literacy and encourages parents to spend more time reading with their children. It was started in 1996 by country music artist Dolly Parton in her hometown of Sevierville, Tenn. By 2000, the program had grown to a national scale as Parton began promoting the initiative in communities throughout the United States.

St. John United Way Executive Director Trista Brazan said the program is open to all children in the parish age birth to 5. Participants receive a free age-appropriate book by mail each month. Children will continue to receive books until they are 5 or until they leave the parish.

“What that means is that any child who begins the program at birth and remains in the parish can receive as many as 60 books through the duration of the program,” Brazan said. “The goal is to encourage parents and young children to read together and stress the importance of reading regularly.”

To participate, Brazan said a community must make the program accessible to all preschool children in the community. She said the community pays for the books and mailing, promotes the program, registers the children and enters the information into a database. Parton’s Dollywood Foundation then takes over and manages the system to deliver the books to homes.

“There are about 3,600 children in St. John Parish and the United Way had allocated funding to cover about 1,000,” Brazan said. “An assortment of corporate and government partners helped us come up with the remainder.”

Former United Way Executive Director Dean Torres said the agency had been trying to secure the program in the parish since about 2003, but funding was always an issue. Brazan said the program was selected because of its ability to impact the area of early childhood education, a main focus area for the St. John United Way.

“It’s a fact that if a child is not reading at grade level by the third grade, they are four times more likely to not graduate high school, “ Brazan said. “Early childhood education is so important because it puts children in the best possible position to succeed when they are older. The great part of the Imagination Library program is that it is open to all preschool children.”

St. John Parish School Superintendant Dr. Courtney Millet said the program will work well with the parish’s newly implemented universal preschool. She said promoting literacy at a young age can have an impact on future education.

“Thousands of children in Louisiana enter kindergarten unprepared and quickly fall behind their peers,” Millet said. “The effects from a lack of high-quality early childhood education can be long-lasting, resulting in lower test scores and leading to early dropouts.”

To register for the program, parents can log onto www.stjohnunitedway.org or visit any local library or daycare center in the parish to pick up a registration forms. Forms can also be requested through the United Way by calling 985-651-9118. Once registered, the child will receive the first book within eight to 10 weeks.