Johnson County Imagination Library sees "tremendous" growth

Release Date: 3/15/2017

After tremendous interest in a new county-wide free book program for preschool children, organizers are inviting additional partners to help grow the program and support literacy in Johnson County.

The Dolly Parton Imagination Library, a national program that was launched in Johnson County in September, already has more than 400 local children registered to receive free books each month.

There were 199 preschool children from birth to age 5 in the county registered for the program in September when the first books were mailed. There are currently 408 children registered in the program, an increase of more than 100 percent in seven months.

Max Slaughter reads to preschool children.

Max Slaughter reads a book to preschool children in the University of the Ozarks' Robson Library during the kickoff last summer of the Dolly Parton Imagination Library in Johnson County. More than 400 children in the county have signed up for the program that provides free books to children from birth to age 5. U of O is one of the primary sponsors of the program.

"We've seen a tremendous amount of interest and participation from parents and children in this program," said Reba Pridgin, one of the county organizers of Imagination Library. "Our goal was to have about 400 children in the first year and we've reached that number in just seven months. We're excited that this program that promotes literacy, learning and families reading together is really catching on throughout the county. However, we need more community partners to keep the books coming to the children of Johnson County."

University of the Ozarks is one of the primary sponsors of the program. The River Valley United Way is providing administrative support and generous donors in the local community are aiding with financial support.

The annual cost for providing books is about $25 a year for each child, a worthy investment according to U of O President Richard Dunsworth.

"Providing children with quality books is a simple way to start them on the path to educational success," Dunsworth said. "This program brings books into the home and allows children to develop skills and habits that will enable them to be more successful in school. We believe this program can help stimulate a life-long love for reading."

The Dollywood Foundation is a 501c(3) non-profit foundation founded by Dolly Parton to support educational projects and improve the quality of life in Parton's native Sevier County, Tennessee. The mission of the foundation is to share the life and legacy of Parton as an inspiration for children to "Dream More...Learn More...Care More...and Be More."

Once preschool children are registered in the program, they start receiving free books in the mail. There are no income requirements and every child in the county under the age of 5 is eligible to register for the books.

The program has also received support from the Mustard Seed, Clarksville Rotary Club, and the Concerned Citizens of Johnson County organization.

"A gift to the Johnson County Imagination Library is an investment in our children, our families and the entire community," Pridgin said.

There will be an opportunity for community members to support the Johnson County Imagination Library on April 6, during the state-wide Arkansas Gives Campaign. Supporters can go to ArkansasGives.org and find the "Imagination Library Johnson County" tab. Donations can also be mailed to: Johnson County Imagination Library, 1010 West Main, Suite No. 1, Clarksville AR 72830.

For more information on registering children for the program, please contact the River Valley United Way at 479-968-5089, info@rivervalleyunitedway.org or at P.O. Box 636, Russellville, AR 72811.