ROCKINGHAM — One thousand Richmond County children 5 and younger will receive free books in the mail from country singer Dolly Parton within the next few months.
Financing for the effort comes from the N.C. General Assembly, which voted during its recent session to set aside $10.5 million over two years so the state’s Smart Start program could work with Parton’s “Imagination Library.” Richmond County’s Partnership for Children is part of the Smart Start network.
“We’re targeting 1,000 children,” said Mamie LeGrand, who will organize the local portion of the project for the Partnership for Children. Once people hear about the opportunity, she said when news of the partnership with Parton was released Thursday, “we’re probably going to have a slew of parents wanting to sign their children up.”
According to census figures from 2016, Richmond County is home to nearly 3,000 children 5 and younger. But the Partnership’s slice of the grant pie — $6,800 — isn’t big enough to reach them all. The money allotted through the legislature will go to 97 other North Carolina counties as well.
Richmond County’s Partnership administers the Reach Out and Read early-literacy program, which places books and other reading materials at local pediatricians’ offices and the county Health Department. LeGrand manages that program, which will collect children’s ZIP codes for the Imagination Library mail-outs.
The Partnership plans to work with Richmond County Schools to find ways to get books into the hands of homeless children, too, LeGrand said. And they will seek children’s names from county libraries, the Health Department and the Department of Social Services, as well as local pediatricians.
Parton, famous for her figure and her voice, often talks about her impoverished childhood. Her “Coat of Many Colors,” an early hit, tells how Parton’s mother fashioned a new winter coat for her from colorful scraps.
In 1995, Parton began Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library. Initially, she sent an age-appropriate book each month to each baby to pre-kindergartner in her home county in eastern Tennessee. The book-mailout was intended to ensure a love of reading in both children and their parents, something that would make children more ready for school.
The program has grown from a few dozen books sent out monthly to more than 80 million sent, through partnerships, to more than 1 million children in the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom, according to information from the Dolly Parton Imagination Library.
Parton said she was “thrilled that my Imagination Library is going to be offered to so many children in North Carolina. Working together, we can help children dream more, learn more, care more and be more.”
For more information about Smart Start and the Imagination Library, visit www.smartstart.org.dolly-parton-imagination-library/ or call LeGrand at 910-997-3773, ext. 25.
Reach Christine Carroll at 910-817-2673.