Imagine this: Every child in McAlester and throughout Pittsburg County, from birth to age 5, can have their own new, free book.
Not only that, once they sign up for the program, they may qualify to get a new book each month until they leave the program after their fifth year.
It is not an impossible dream. It is one that is on its way to becoming a reality thanks to a few local residents, Friends of the McAlester Public Library, MPL and Dolly Parton.
Called the Imagination Library of Pittsburg County, it’s on the run as part of Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library and the famous singer-songwriter’s goal of inspiring a love of books and reading in all children from a very young age. It is designed to put “books in the hands and hearts of children from all over the world.”
Partons Imagination Library collaborates with local groups or organizations to collaborate on the program.
The concept captured the imagination of local resident Caroline Russell, who soon came in contact with her friend Robin Woodley in hopes that they could bring such a program to McAlester. They soon expanded their goals to include the whole of Pittsburg County.
Through the program, children can receive a personalized book with their name, which will be sent directly to their home in hopes of encouraging families to enjoy their books together.
While Russell and Woodley were excited about the possibilities, they had to work with a nonprofit group.
Russell, who said she has three children under the age of 3, said that ever since she had heard about the program, she would join.
“I kept checking for availability,” she said. So, “I had a light bulb moment.”
Russell came in contact with a regional director of the Imagination Library. “She told me we were going to be below a 501 (c) (3),” Russell said.
She already had an idea of who she would ask to help with the program – Friends of the Library Treasurer David Beall.
“I had heard good things about David,” Russell said.
Woodley said she and Russell worked together on another project several years ago. Woodley was already familiar with the Imagination Library. Her son, Chase Woodley, lives in Washington DC, and his 2-year-old son had already received some books through it. Woodley also knew Beall, and they arranged a meeting.
“We arranged a meeting with Friends of the Library and started working on it,” Woodley said.
Beall and the Friends of the Library board members were impressed with Russell and Woodley’s presentation.
“We approved it on the spot,” Beall said.
Children enroll in the program through their parents or caregivers.
“We had 410 registered children, and as of this morning we have added another hundred,” Woodley said earlier this week.
The latest federal census shows 2,616 children in that age group in Pittsburg County, she said, so the group is already on track to enroll a significant portion of that population.
“We think the first round of books is coming in June,” Woodley said. If there are several children in a home, they will each receive a book tailored to their age. The books are also coming on a different date, so there should definitely be a sense of anticipation, she said.
The first book a child receives is “The Little Engine That Could,” Woodley said. The last one as they leave the program is “Look Out Kindergarten, Here I Come!”
“This is a way to make a meaningful impact,” Russell said. “It’s not income-based. All children have the same opportunity.”
Registration is a simple process and can be done either online or by regular mail.
To sign up online, go to imaginationlibrary.com. It will ask for your zip code, she said, to determine eligibility. Russell and Woodley said all zip codes in Pittsburg County had to be approved for registration to participate.
Registration forms can also be picked up and returned at the McAlester Public Library. For those who prefer to sign up online but do not have internet access, the library has offered to make it available.
MPL Manager Heath Stanfield said the library is happy to be involved.
“One can not overestimate early literacy – it’s a game changer,” he said.
While not a Southern Oklahoma Library System program, it is consistent with the library’s values of providing information and understanding the importance of early childhood reading skills, Stanfield said.
“Our librarians are trained in how to enroll people on the website or give them a physical shape,” he said. A special box has been set up at the library for the forms, and library friends will pick up these forms a few times a week, he said.
“We’re excited about it,” Stanfield said. “The library does not get anything out of it. We want books in the hands of children – and that can change a community.”
While the Dolly Parton Imagination Foundation picks up a lot of the costs, it is not designed to absorb them all without help.
“We depend on community donations,” Woodley said. “It will take a village with so many books.” Some generous donations have already been made and there are plans to expand the way donations can be made.
“We hope to have plenty of entry points,” Woodley said. However, they do not want parents or other caregivers to feel that they have to make a donation in order for their child to participate in the program. “We will never ask a parent for a donation,” she said.
The average cost of participation is $ 25 per person. child. The Oklahoma State Department of Education recently announced that it is involved in the program nationwide by paying half of that cost, at $ 12.50. It will help by reducing the amount to be raised locally, also $ 12.50, to reach $ 25 in total.
Beall said anyone who wants to help can send a check to be paid to: Library Friends; Attn: Dolly Parton Imagination Library; 401 N. Anden St .; McAlester, OK; 74501. He said 100% of the donation will go to the project.
“It’s a great program,” Beall said. “Library friends are happy to be involved.”
Contact James Beaty at firstname.lastname@example.org.