The Imagination Library is a program of Dolly Par ton’s Dol lywood Foundation, where children under the age of five receive an age-appropriate book every month, mailed directly to them at no charge to the child’s family.
Parton’s parents were illiterate, as were many others in Tennessee, so in 1996 she created the Imagination Library to guarantee children of her Smoky Mountain homeland access to books to inspire reading.
In November 2006, the program became available to Canadian communities when it partnered with the Invest in Kids Foundation in Toronto. The entire Yukon is enrolled, as are all 11 First Nation communities in Nova Scotia. Closer to home, over 300 children in Dauphin receive a book each month and the communities of Ochre River, McCreary and Selkirk are also participating.
Rolling River First Nation decided to replicate the program after a decision was made that the Southquill Headstart Program would become the community champion. They initiated fundraising efforts for the book costs for the 50 children in the community, which was so successful that the program will be available for at least 10 years.
The Dollywood Foundation purchases the books wholesale and is able to get discounts on mailing costs. The average cost of the books, labelling and mailing is $5.75 per month per child, but the books received are all top of the line, retailing for much more. A committee of educators and specialists in child development and early-childhood literacy selects the books that are sent.
The sponsors of the program have three primary duties – to pay the cost of the books and mailing, to manage their local database and to host a rollout event that celebrates and publicizes the program.
Rolling River Imagination Library launch was a huge success. Southquill health director Les Shannacappo acted as emcee and elder Darlene McKay opened the celebration with a prayer in the Saulteaux language. Tracey Shannacappo, Southquill Headstart coordinator explained that the first five years are crucial in a child’s development and that the Imagination Library will give the kids a “leg up” with their language development.
Sponsors included the Southquill Gaming Centre, Southquill Gas Bar, Southquill Maternal Health Program and Erickson Credit Union.
Credit union manager, Valerie Soltys said, “The credit union is pleased to support such a positive program, as it is an excellent fit with the credit union’s community-focused values.”
Marnie Manulak of the Maternal Health Program said that reading to children strengthens the bonds within the family and extended family. “It does, indeed,” she said, “take a village to raise a child.”
Chief Wilfred McKay welcomed everyone and thanked them for their support. He noted that a child born this month will have amassed a personal library of 60 books before they enter school.
Grand Chief Morris Swan-Shannacappo reminded everyone that it only takes 15 minutes of reading each day to accomplish so much.
Karen Davis, co-ordinator of the Brighter Futures Program for West Regional Tribal Council Health Department, has introduced Imagination Library to many Manitoba communities. Davis, who hails from Ebb and Flow First Nation, has a goal to get all 64 Manitoba First Nation communities on board and when that happens, the Dollywood Foundation has committed to provide additional books that feature First Nations culture and language.
The launch ended with a Victory Drum Song, lunch and a door prize draw, and love, pride and hope for the future was evident.
For more information on the program go to www.imaginationlibrary.com,enter as a “visitor” and follow the links.
– Candy Irwin writes from Lake Audy, Manitoba