When you think of children’s picture books, singer/songwriter Dolly Parton is probably not the first name that comes to mind. But maybe it should be. Since 1995, her nonprofit organization, Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library has been mailing free children’s books every month to kids up to age five.
Parton’s inspiration for founding the organization was her hardworking father, Lee, who never learned to read. “He was the smartest man I have ever known, but I know in my heart his inability to read probably kept him from fulfilling all of his dreams,” Parton says, according to a letter on her website. Started in Sevier County, Tennessee, where Parton grew up, she originally hoped to inspire a love of reading for children in her home county. Since then, the nonprofit has expanded across the United States and into four other countries, and has mailed more than 119 million books. In Colorado, there are 26 local affiliates across the state, which together have mailed one million books.
When Sara Randall moved to Denver from California in 2014, she was familiar with the program from her work in the nonprofit sector, and couldn’t believe it didn’t already exist in her new zip code. Randall, with the help of a few volunteers, started the Imagination Library of Denver (ILD), which now serves 900 kids in three Denver zip codes (80205, 80211, and 80220).
“This program is proven to increase kindergarten readiness and kids in the program test higher on assessments,” says Randall, director of ILD. “But more than that, parents are happy to see their kids become interested and excited about reading.”
The first book every child who registers receives is The Little Engine that Could—Dolly Parton’s favorite. The last book mailed at age five is Look Out Kindergarten, Here I Come, with a wide range of classics and newer titles in between.
Randall remembers getting a note from a parent who had received the book, I Just Want To Say Good Night, through the program. The note said, “[The book] made him jump out of bed with excitement when he recognized himself in the character and opened up a whole new way to enjoy reading.”
Randall hopes to expand to the entire city of Denver and other Colorado zip codes in which the Imagination Library is currently not available. “It’s important to have a smart community,” she says.
How Families Can Help »
ILD is independently funded, while the Dollywood Foundation provides the infrastructure for database management, printing, and shipping. This year, Randall’s goal is to raise $250,000. Here’s how you can help.
- Collaborate with ILD to help expand its service area, if you are a business, teacher, or parent volunteer. If you have a specific zip code in mind that you’d like ILD to serve, the organization can partner with you to raise the funds.
- Host a fundraising party, and donate the proceeds to ILD.
- Volunteer to assist with ILD’s signature fundraising event, the Denver Grilled Cheese Festival, held in November.
- Attend the Denver Grilled Cheese Festival, to help raise money for ILD.
- Enroll kids to receive books from ILD by volunteering at local community events with your family.
- Coordinate a book swap in your community, while raising awareness about ILD.
- Offer your professional skills in a volunteer role to help ILD.
- Choose ILD as a charity partner, when you sign up for any of the Colfax Marathon races in the spring.