ELYRIA — The Lorain County Imagination Library is seeking financial help from donors to continue providing free reading materials to children in the county.
The Lorain County Imagination Library is a countywide initiative meant to increase childhood literacy through access to print materials, promote kindergarten readiness and encourage parents to read to their child every day. If its current fundraising goals are not met, the program — which sends free books to homes with children from birth to age 5 — could end before the year is out.
“We don’t want to deny any children who want books sent to their homes,” said Patricia O’Brien, executive director of The Stocker Foundation.
Additional financial support is sorely needed to keep the program going past June 30 this year, O’Brien and Stocker Foundation office manager Melanie Wilson said. The fundraising goal is 3,800 new or returning donors giving $25 each by June 30, as well as any support foundations, businesses, organizations or individuals are willing to contribute.
Reaching the goal will allow the Imagination Library to obtain a $75,000 challenge grant from The Stocker Foundation and keep the program funded.
A total of 346 donations of $25 have been made since a social media campaign launched March 1, according to The Stocker Foundation. Those book fees cover the cost of the books and shipping, directly from the Dolly Parton Imagination Library.
“Reading aloud is the single most important activity supporting children’s language and literacy development,” O’Brien said. “Access to print resources — board books, stories and informational books — early on has both immediate and long-term effects on children’s vocabulary, background knowledge and comprehension skills. And while public libraries are critically important in giving families access to books, research has shown that regardless of a family’s income, the presence of books in the home is directly related to children’s reading achievement.”
The local program is an offshoot of country music star and actress Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library. The program, which Parton started in East Tennessee in honor of her father, sends 1 million free books each month to children in the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom and Australia. In 2018, the program added 66 new titles and gifted more than 15.2 million books.
Each book is selected for its developmental benefits and fun with the assistance of child psychologists and experts. If registered at birth, a child will build an in-home library of 60 new books by the time they reach age 5, prior to enrolling in kindergarten.
The first book a child receives is “The Little Engine That Could,” and the last book delivered the month the child turns 5 is “Look Out Kindergarten, Here I Come!”
Countywide, more than 17,000 children are eligible to participate in the program. Through the generosity of Lorain County residents, foundations, corporations, school districts and other agencies, the library has grown to serve 7,250 children monthly since it began in July 2017, according to The Stocker Foundation.
Schools are chipping in: Elyria Schools will soon host a “Dimes for Dolly” fundraiser, Wilson said, and The Ross Foundation — which provides educational grant money from its corporate parent, Ross Environmental Services Inc. — gave $5,000 to the effort, Wilson said.
The Wellington Board of Education also donated $2,500, she said. Retired teachers and grandparents whose grandchildren have benefited from the program or will become eligible have “paid it forward” with donations as well, Wilson said.
Gov. Mike DeWine’s recent biennial budget proposal contains $5 million for Imagination Library programs, but that money is not guaranteed in the final version of the budget, O’Brien said.
Donations to the Lorain County Imagination Library by mail should be sent to: Lorain County Imagination Library, in care of The Community Foundation of Lorain County, 9080 Leavitt Road, Elyria, OH 44035.
The Stocker Foundation also has worked to increase literacy and access to books by placing Little Free Libraries in communities throughout Lorain County. O’Brien said awareness of childhood literacy is an important aspect of the foundation’s programs.
“We not only want to have new donors or current donors who give again, but to make sure people understand how important this program is,” she said. “This is not a gimmick. This is really important.”