What if every child in Kent County got a free age-appropriate book once a month from birth to five years old?
That’s the dream of the Imagination Library. Created by singer Dolly Parton, the program brings the world of storytelling to young children all over the country – rich or poor, city or country. But it can’t do its work without financial support.
Donna Bedell of the Judy Center in Henry Highland Garnet Elementary School and Rosemary Granillo of the Kent County Local Management Board are working to reinvigorate the Kent County Imagination Library, which lost its funding from the State of Maryland last July.
Speaking to the Spy at the Judy Center on Tuesday, Bedell and Granillo said parents can enroll their children in the program at no cost and with no commitment other than to receive the books. And they can sign their children up for the program at birth, so they can receive up to 60 books over the period of enrollment.
“For me, the excitement is that every child in Kent County will have the same shared literary experience by five years old,” Bedell said. “How powerful that would be!”
“Nobody has to drive or go to any activities,” Granillo said. She added that all you have to do is sign up,” which families can do online at www.usa.imaginationlibrary.com. And once the books, come, she said, the children will insist that the parents read to them – often over and over again! And children love that a package arrives in the mail to them with their name on it. All this helps create a positive interaction that improves readiness for school..
“They carry the books around with them,” Bedell said, of children who received the books are now in school. This is sometimes several years later and the books are very precious to these kids.
Imagination Library is popular well beyond the U.S., with strong programs in Britain and in Canada.
Some of the books on the current list are The Little Engine that Could (the first book every child receives), Llama Llama Red Pajama, The Tale of Peter Rabbit, and Owl Moon. The month of a child’s fifth birthday, they receive Look Out Kindergarten, Here I Come. Some of the books are available bilingually in English and Spanish.
The program is definitely a hit with the families. In a letter seeking support for the program, Granillo said that 100 percent of the families would recommend the program to a friend. And 94 percent said they felt it helped prepare their child for kindergarten.
Given Kent County’s comparatively small population, the total cost of the program would be a comparatively small slice of the county budget. At $25 a child, it would come to about $24,000 to enroll every child under age five in the entire county.
However, changed priorities at the Governor’s Office for Children led to the discontinuation of the state funding for the program in July last year. Kent County was able to find funding to keep the program open through October.
As of now, the program is back on its feet, but it is running on a month-to-month basis, Bedell said. At present, 251 children are enrolled – about one-quarter of those eligible, she said. It will take about $6,000 to keep the current 251 children on the program for a year. The program is now on a month-month basis.
“It would be very feasible to enroll everybody,” said Granillo. Parents can enroll their children at Henry Highland Garnet Elementary School on Calvert St. between Kent and College streets or through the Kent County Library or the Kent County Family Center as well as online. Bedell and Granillo are planning to add several other places to register children as soon as they have funds.
The Local Management Board, the Judy Center and the Kent County Public Library are working to find funding for the program through contributions from the county and town governments, as well as from private donors.
The Town of Rock Hall has already sent a check, Granillo said. However, it is still early in the budget process for most local governments. Chestertown and Millington have not set their budgets, and the county commissioners have not put the issue on their agenda yet. Given a general sense of belt-tightening in local government, the program may need private funding to meet its goals.
The Mid-Shore Community Foundation is helping with the effort. A $25 donation will support one child for an entire year. Donations should be designated for the Imagination Library – Kent County Fund.
To donate by mail, send checks to Mid Shore Community Foundation Imagination Library-Kent County Fund102 East Dover St. Easton, MD 21601
Donations may also be made online at www.mscf.org. Click the “Donate” button, then “donate online.” Fill in the information requested and “Imagination Library – Kent County”as the fund you want to support.
All contributions are tax deductible. And heart-warming. You will feel good every time you see a young child clutching a book.