“Working 9 to 5” is a Dolly Parton phrase not often uttered by volunteers, board members and employees of nonprofits in our community. That’s because, when you focus your efforts on a heartfelt mission, the work is never done. Sometimes the impact of the mission changes the life of one person or group or starts a statewide movement.
That is how I feel about Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library and the people that made it a statewide success. I am appreciative of all their hard work and dedication.
As most of Washington knows, Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library is now a statewide program putting a monthly book in the hands of children from birth to age 5. Dolly herself came to Washington and celebrated the amazing accomplishment of having a program in each of the 39 counties.
At the event, Dolly described how the Imagination Library started out in 1995 as a small book program in her East Tennessee hometown. She never expected it to grow and expand to an international program serving more than 2.5 million children.
Being a longtime advocate of the program, as well as cosponsor of the legislation to expand the program statewide, I was honored to speak at the event and talk about my favorite benefits of reading with my children. However, I was not able to fully discuss the “origin story” of this program in Washington state.
Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library was first expanded in Washington state in Southwest Washington by the United Way of Cowlitz and Wahkiakum Counties. The passion and drive to adopt, build and expand the program was inspired by former Executive Director Booke Fisher-Clark. Brooke is now the executive director of the Imagination Library of Washington.
I heard about the program soon after from our local Centralia, Chehalis and Twin Cities Rotary clubs that were partnering with the United Way of Lewis County to expand the program in Lewis County. That program was an instant success thanks to former United Way Executive Director Debbie Campbell; Angela French, who is now the communications and outreach manager for the Imagination Library of Washington; and many of our Rotary members such as Anil Puri, John Elmore, Ron Averill and Arnie Guenther, to name a few.
I instantly became a supporter. I loved that this program created quality family time and helped prepare children for kindergarten.
Research shows the greatest amount of brain and cognitive development happens in children before the age of 5. Daily reading with a child helps improve language skills, increase concentration and discipline, develop imagination and creativity, and cultivate a lifelong love for reading.
As families continue reading, communicating and spending quality time together through the Imagination Library program, children learn concepts and themes and develop skills for school and life. Those concepts and themes become more complex over time and inspire imagination before they even start school.
Too many children are not kindergarten-ready when they begin school. If we want to see higher test scores, help end intergenerational poverty and provide greater opportunities for our children, then the investments must start earlier. We recognized this in Southwest Washington through the amazing efforts of our local United Way and Rotary organizations. Now, the state of Washington has followed our lead.
There are many volunteers working much longer than “9 to 5” to help lift up our community and neighbors. Whether it is constructing handicap accessible ramps, feeding the hungry, collecting school supplies or promoting early learning, those efforts in one small community or internationally have a positive impact felt for generations. However big or small, we all appreciate the efforts to lift our community up.
The local efforts by Rotary and the United Way to expand Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library and origin story for the Imagination Library of Washington is an inspiration to all of us.
Peter Abbarno is a state representative for the 20th Legislative District and an attorney based in Centralia.