GREENFIELD — A program offering free books to county children will kick off early next year as part of a local partnership aimed at promoting childhood literacy.
The Hancock County Public Library and Hancock County Community Foundation are laying the foundation to start a local Dolly Parton Imagination Library. The national program is designed to foster reading and learning habits among children from birth to 5 years old by providing free books each month to local families that enroll.
In 1995, The Dollywood Foundation launched the first Dolly Parton Imagination Library to benefit the children of Parton’s home county in Tennessee. According to the organization’s website, the vision was to foster a love of reading among preschool children and their families by providing them with the gift of a specially selected book each month.
Since 2000, Dollywood has partnered with organizations across the country to replicate the Imagination Library program in their communities.
Hancock County’s program will be funded on the local level, with the community foundation taking the lead to raise the money — an estimated $58,000 each year if 60 percent of the county’s preschool-age children sign up.
Organizers will follow the Dollywood model while establishing the program.
The local Imagination Library won’t start handing out books until January, but officials are laying the groundwork this summer in hopes of a smooth transition.
Organizers will phase in the program during five years, offering books to families with newborns the first year and then expanding. The goal is to extend the program to all county children from newborn to 5 years old by 2020.
Library officials signed a memorandum of understanding at a recent board meeting to help get the project rolling, and they’re excited about taking the first steps.
“This is a tremendous opportunity for us and the community,” library director Dave Gray said.
Library officials will handle the administrative duties of running the program by signing up families and ordering books to be mailed directly to their homes.
Gray hopes the program will build a bridge between the library and families with young children who discover a love of learning.
“Once the child hits 5 years old, the program quits, but then, hopefully, we will get a library-user for life,” Gray said.
Officials with the community foundation will handle the financial aspects of sustaining the program. They plan to create and grow a fund to support the program with the help of community donations.
Community foundation director Mary Gibble said her office is now in the process of filing all the paperwork with Dollywood Foundation officials. She said the agreement between the library and the community foundation is the first step to making the Imagination Library a reality.
Foundation officials are planning to hold a kickoff event this fall to get families involved and educate residents about how to contribute to the cause. The foundation will match community donations to fund the program for 2016, Gibble said.
Gibble said she hopes to have every family in the county take part in the free book program.
“This is a program we think we can implement and sustain,” Gibble said. “We want to do it in a way so that we can afford the program forever.”
The program is free to all county families, regardless of income.