The Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library of Ravalli County is celebrating success.
The program that provides children a free book in the mail each month has registered child number 1,000 after only being in the Bitterroot Valley for one year.
DPL President Sybil Solomon said the local efforts have outpaced the Dolly Parton Foundation predictions in Ravalli County by 450%.
“It’s pretty awesome,” Solomon said. “Plus, we have 158 kids that graduated on their 5th birthday and our registered children live in every town from Florence to Sula. We have mailed 12,548 books to kids from birth to five in Ravalli County since the first ones were delivered in July of 2020.”
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Dan and Jodi Mitchell’s twin daughters, Millie and Lettie, have the distinction of being child 999 and 1,000. Their son Oscar, age 2, has been enrolled in the program since he was 11 months old.
“Dan and I love the quiet, bonding time we get with our children when reading to them,” Jodi Mitchell said. “The chaos of the day disappears when we sit down with a book. The program helps grow our library and gives our two-year-old a new story to get excited over. We love it and look forward to continuing this program with the girls.”
Country music legend Dolly Parton started her Imagination Library in 1995 to help the children in Tennessee and as a tribute to her father who was illiterate. It has grown and the program sends more than one million books to children around the world each month.
“Inspiring kids to love to read became my mission,” Parton said. “In the beginning, my hope was simply to inspire the children in my home county but here we are today with a worldwide program that gives a book a month to well over 1 million children.”
Parents or grandparents can register a child by going to the website imaginationlibraryravallicounty.com, completing the form online and emailing it to email@example.com, or by printing the form and mailing it to Dolly Parton Imagination Library of Ravalli County, PO Box 1974, Hamilton, MT 59840. Then every month, until they turn 5, each child will receive a book in the mail addressed to them. It’s a way to build their library and give them a head start in life.
The books are free to children and their families, thanks to sponsors.
Sapphire Community Health is the 501(s) partner, First Security Bank is the lead sponsor with CEO Scott Burke and President Bob Whalen, Elks Lodge #1561 gave the Spotlight Grant, Trey Anthony includes DPL information in The Mailman and Hannah Gimpel helps spread the word. Other funding has come from Town Pump, Montana Community Foundation (Darby) the Jane S. Heman Foundation, Washington Companies, Ravalli Electric Co-op, High Stakes Foundation and individual donors. Literacy Bitterroot with Dixie Stark and Bitterroot Law helped get the local program started. Solomon also thanked the Bitterroot Valley Chamber of Commerce, Head Start, the libraries and other organizations and individuals have announced the program and posted registration information on their websites or Facebook pages.
First Security Bank President Bob Whalen said his own experience is proof of reading success. He said he was read to as a child, he read to his daughter in the womb and now reads to his grandchildren.
“My grandson is 2 and when I read to him it just opens his mind up,” Whalen said. “He asks questions and just loves it. Sunday, my 6-year-old granddaughter read to me. Reading is the foundation for reading, writing and arithmetic. There’s a reason reading is first, it is so powerful, so critical.”
Whalen emphasized that reading to children when they are young helps them enter school “reading ready.”
“Think about the value to our teachers and our entire education system if they can come in and they are ready to handle a book,” he said. “Reading to children is an amazing investment, talk about a life sport, if you want to look at it as a sport. You can do it from day one to the end.”
Whalen said the Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library of Ravalli County is easy to support.
“Getting kids to read and having that parent connection with their child is the best,” he said. “Giving is its own reward.”
Solomon said some children have been registered on the day they were born and she is hoping for many more children to be registered in Ravalli County.
The first book children receive is Dolly Pardon’s favorite book, "The Little Engine that Could," by Watty Piper. The last book that they receive for their 5th birthday is about getting ready for kindergarten. The books are a mixture of classic and new stories chosen by early childhood experts. On the paperback books, the front and back covers have a flap with suggestions for age-appropriate activities and conversations.
Solomon said being read to during the first few years of life make a large difference in a child’s success in school and life.
“When children read, they are exposed to vocabulary that expands the way they express themselves, it helps them understand others and it introduces them to new ideas,” she said. “We really want to promote parents reading to their kids 15 minutes a day.”
She cites research that shows that having books in the home improves life.
“Often people think that reading to very young children as a waste of time but what we’re seeing is by 18 months children who have been read to have better success in school and life,” Solomon said. “A child’s brain grows to 80% of its full size by age 3 and they are making 700 connections per second. When we read to children and expose them to more words and ideas it better prepares them for life.”
In Ravalli County, 1,000 children are registered from Sula to Florence and 158 have already graduated from the program by turning 5. Currently, there are three registered children in Connor, 152 in Corvallis, 57 in Darby, 113 in Florence, 300 in Hamilton, 27 in Pinesdale, 276 in Stevensville, two in Sula and 64 in Victor.
There will be some upcoming fundraisers for the Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library of Ravalli County to keep books coming to families for free, watch for them.
For more information contact Solomon at 406-361-8012.