by Nathan Boddy
The Smoky Mountains of Tennessee are a long way from Ravalli County, but the impact of their native daughter, Dolly Parton, is resonating here in the Rocky Mountains.
Parton grew up as the daughter of an illiterate man, and had long wanted to do something in his honor. The superstar made good by starting the Imagination Library in 1995, a program which to date has delivered more than 197 million books to children around the world, without costing them or their families a penny.
Syble Solomon is the Coordinator for Imagination Library of Ravalli County, the 18th such program in Montana. She explains how the program delivers one book per month to enrolled children up to age 5, which can mean dozens of high quality books since so many children are enrolled within hours of their birth. Parton’s vision of the program has always been that it provides the gift of reading, regardless of all else.
“The program is not income based,” says Solomon, adding that keeping enrollment out of the realm of a ‘need based’ service keeps it far removed from stigma or the cumbersome requirements of proving need. Furthermore, she adds that, “Just because people have enough money to buy books, it doesn’t mean they appreciate the value of books and reading and that interaction with a child.” Having the program free of cost is one way that Imagination Library is promoting interest in literacy of youth above all else.
Solomon also explains that the funding for the program is never asked of the participants. People can donate, but they will never be presented with that question while they enroll a youth. “There is no fundraising or solicitation along with registration,” she says. “And everything is confidential.”
The program is funded by a variety of sources, but essentially couples the wholesale purchasing power of the national Imagination Library program with local and regional non-profits, who serve as a partner to the local affiliate of the Imagination Library. Sapphire Community Health in Hamilton serves as that partner to Ravalli County Imagination Library, allowing for the shipping costs of the books to enjoy a far lower rate from source to child. At the same time, the Ravalli County Imagination Library is sponsored by First Security Bank, allowing them to more effectively apply for grants and other funding.
“We’ve had tremendous local support,” she says, adding that organizations such as the Rapp Family Foundation, Town Pump, the Darby Community Organization and the Elks Lodge have all played a role in providing books to over 1,000 Bitterroot Valley kids who are in the program. She adds that every one of the Bitterroot Valley’s communities has kids enrolled.
There are currently multiple ambassadors for the Imagination Library in Ravalli County, including the staff at Bitterroot Health Birthing Center and the members of the Hamilton Women’s Group, all of whom take steps to inform new families about the value of the program. And while the numbers are impressive (1154 children are receiving books every month, and 409 children have ‘graduated’ from the program), it is the one-on-one interaction with a child and book that shows the power of the program.
One such example comes from Debbie Harper, who watches her granddaughter two times a week and is thrilled that she is able to share that time with the little one.
“I think more kids need to be spending time with books and less with digital,” says Harper while smiling down at her granddaughter. She adds that, when she first learned about the program, she immediately thought, “What a great gift.”
People can find more information about the program and register by visiting https://www.imaginationlibraryravallicounty.com or by visiting the public libraries in Hamilton, Stevensville or Darby.