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Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library of Douglas County: Inspiring dreams through a love of reading (Column)

Note: The Lawrence Times is offering some space for area organizations and organizers to express their views, provide updates and attempt to reach other folks who might share their mission. This post is contributed content (i.e., not produced by the Times staff). See more in our Community Voices section, or see how to submit your own piece.

What began with a used book and a message to a Facebook moms group has become a thriving program that has delivered more than 16,000 free books to Douglas County preschool children. But Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library of Douglas County is suffering from growing pains and needs your help. 

Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library is a book gifting program that delivers free, high-quality books to children from birth until they begin school, no matter their family’s income. One age-appropriate book from the Imagination Library book list is mailed every month to each participating child at their home. Through the program, Dolly, who was inspired by her father who was unable to read and write, seeks to empower young children to love reading. The Imagination Library mails more than 1.4 million books each month to children around the world. The impact of the program has been widely researched and results suggest positive increases in key early childhood literacy metrics. You can learn more about the program at imaginationlibrary.com.

Dolly Parton’s Dollywood Foundation provides support by partially subsidizing the books, sending out the books and maintaining a record-keeping database for local affiliates to use. However, individual communities must raise $2.10 cents for the cost of each book, or $25 per child per year, and organize the effort to bring the Imagination Library to their area.

Locally, this grassroots effort began three and a half years ago when a local mom found a used Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library book at a book sale, and wrote a message on a Facebook moms group about starting up an Imagination Library in Douglas County. We launched in March 2020 for registrations in Lawrence, and in May 2020 with the announcement of our St. Patrick’s Day Parade beneficiary funding, we were able to expand to all of Douglas County. With more than $50,000 from the Kansas Health Foundation and St. Patrick’s Day Committee, we had met the Dollywood Foundation’s cost projections for the first two years and felt confident to start the program.

As it turned out, Douglas County families enthusiastically embraced this program, and registrations soon far outpaced our growth projections! In April 2021 (first month of our second year), we spent approximately the same amount of money that was estimated for midway through our third year! 

Along the way, we have successfully raised more money for the program through grants from local foundations and fundraising activities such as a raffle, a T-shirt sale, and many generous donations. However, our rapid growth continues to outpace funding, and we have only a few months of funding left. We do not want to suspend the program, and we have developed a sustainability plan to help us meet our goals long-term. But we need your help to keep it going.

Please donate to this vital early literacy investment so that we can continue to get books in the hands of Douglas County children! To donate, visit this link. A $25 donation sponsors one child for one year, $50 will sponsor two children and $75 will sponsor three children. 

If you have a passion for reading or for helping children, please consider volunteering for our Sustainability Committee for additional fundraising activities. The committee will meet about once a month and members may work on fundraising activities outside of meetings. We would love to include you in this effort! Some activities might include contacting local businesses to develop relationships, helping with fundraising events or activities, writing and editing communications to funders, or helping to write and edit grant applications. Email us at dpildouglas@gmail.com if you are interested!

As Dolly says, “When I was growing up in the hills of East Tennessee, I knew my dreams would come true. I know there are children in your community with their own dreams. They dream of becoming a doctor or an inventor or a minister. Who knows, maybe there is a little girl whose dream is to be a writer and singer. The seeds of these dreams are often found in books and the seeds you help plant in your community can grow across the world.” 

We thank you for your help in planting more seeds. 

— Dara Allgeier (she/her), of Lawrence, is Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library of Douglas County co-coordinator. 

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