CADIZ – Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library program continues to grow, and Ohio first lady Fran DeWine stopped at Cadiz’s Puskarich Library on Wednesday to promote the state’s participation in the early literacy effort.
She also planned stops in Woodsfield and Byesville on Wednesday and said she tries to visit a different part of the state each day. Her tour is part of the Ohio Governor’s Imagination Library, working in partnership with Parton’s original program.
DeWine spent nearly an hour talking to and reading to a group of children from around the Cadiz area. The selected titles were“The Tale of Peter Rabbit” and “Building a Dream.” She became very engaged with the little ones, pointing out pictures and explaining what they mean.
Children from birth to 5 years old are eligible for a free book each month. Parents can go to OhioImaginationLibrary.org to register a child for the program.
“I learned about it when my own grandkids, I was with them one day when the mail came and they got their books and they ripped off that plastic wrapper,” she said of books received through Parton’s organization, adding that they pleaded with her to read to them. She said she thought, “This is just so wonderful, to see the excitement in those kids getting their own book in the mail, addressed to them.”
DeWine said she felt it would be a good thing to get every eligible child in Ohio involved with the program and she helped start the governor’s office version of it in 2019.
Each of the 88 counties in Ohio had been set up with the program by the end of that year.
“We’re really excited about the great job they’re doing here,” she said.
Regarding long-term plans to keep the program going, DeWine said the number of affiliates already set up in each county, such as the United Way, is solidifying the program.
“Each one of those is working to make their, you know, sustainable in their own county,” she said.
Books are sent to the county’s children for $ 2.10 from Parton’s foundation, according to DeWine. She explained that the local affiliate will raise the money, which is matched by the state legislature, which has allocated money as well.
“So basically, every dollar that is raised here in this community buys a book for a child,” she said. “United Way uses the program to help raise money… and so I think it’s going to be sustainable. If parents like it, if it’s making a difference, it will continue. ”
DeWine said the state of Ohio receives more books through Imagination Library than any other state. She added that around 317,000 children have received a book this month.
“We’re not the highest percentage, but we have more kids getting books,” she said. “So, if we make this so popular, it’s going to continue.”
When asked what it would take to get Parton to come to Ohio, DeWine said it would have already happened except for three planned trips that were canceled due to COVID-19 concerns. She said Parton was ready to come when the entire state was signed up for the book program.
“But I think she’ll be coming later this summer to Ohio,” DeWine said.
DeWine said in the beginning of the program, there were only small pockets of it throughout Ohio and only around 13% of children were receiving books. Each county now has an affiliate partner, with Harrison County’s partner being the United Way of Jefferson County. Now, 51% of eligible Harrison County youngsters (474 books) have signed up compared to 44% across all of Ohio.
Belmont County’s partner is The Community Foundation for the Ohio Valley and 43% of eligible kids there are enrolled for a total of 1,537 books handed out so far. Monroe County shows 35% enrolled and 282 books given away through the United Way of Guernsey and Noble Counties – Women’s Initiative.
Since August of 2019 when the program began in the state, 7,257,333 books have been mailed out.