ROCKINGHAM — Dolly Parton wants to give free books to 926 more young children in Richmond County. Or, rather, her Imagination Library does, through a grant with the N.C. Partnership for Children.
The Richmond County Partnership office held an open house Wednesday to encourage parents to sign up their children, from babies to 5-year-olds. Fifty-four parents enrolled their children, each of whom will receive one book a month in the mail until his fifth birthday.
Twenty other children had been signed up before the open house.
“We’ve been getting a slew of applicants,” program coordinator Mamie Legrand said Thursday.
Since announcing the receipt of its grant in October, the local Partnership has placed applications for participation in the Imagination Library in several places:
• Choice Pediatrix, 1219 Rockingham Road, Suite 7, Rockingham;
• FirstHealth Obstetrics and Gynecology, 921 S. Long Drive, Rockingham;
• MCM Pediatrics, 711 S. Long Drive, Rockingham;
• the Richmond County Department of Social Services, 125 Caroline St., Rockingham;
• the United Way of Richmond County, 208 E. Franklin St., Rockingham; and
• all Richmond County child-care facilities.
It also is working with the school system and post office to find a way to reach the handfuls of homeless children who would be eligible.
The local Partnership office wants at least 1,000 children to receive the books, including about one dozen children in Richmond County Schools. It is working on those arrangements now.
At the open house, state Sen. Tom McInnis, R-Richmond, quizzed Bill O’Donnell, director of early literacy with the N.C. Partnership for Children, on whether rural counties would get a fair shake under the grant. O’Donnell assured him they would.
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.
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.
Parton, famous for her figure and her voice, often talks about her impoverished childhood. She began Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library in 1995. Initially, she sent an age-appropriate book each month to each baby to pre-kindergartner in her home county in eastern Tennessee. The book mail-out 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.
For more information about Smart Start and the Imagination Library, visit www. smartstart.org.dolly-parton-imaginationlibrary/, or call Legrand at 910-997-3773, Ext. 25.