Literacy initiative short of objective

GREENFIELD — As the launch day for an initiative that puts books in the hands of young readers approaches, organizers say they’ll keep fundraising efforts chugging along until they meet a $200,000 goal.

A donation campaign for the Imagination Library, a program spearhead by the local community foundation and library that mails out free books each month to children younger than age 5, fell just short of its goal, raising about $194,000.

During the Imagination Library Express campaign, community members donated more than $134,000, president Mary Gibble said. That money was boosted by a nearly $60,000 match from Lilly Endowment.

Organizers had hoped the community would chip in closer to $200,000 during the fundraiser. They say they’ll continue soliciting gifts until the remaining $40,000 in match money has been used.

Imagination Library is an early literacy program started by Dolly Parton’s Dollywood Foundation. In 1995, the first Dolly Parton Imagination Library began in Tennessee. The program since has grown to include communities across North America, the United Kingdom and Australia, according to the organization’s website.

Each branch of the program operates with the same purpose: to provide books to all youngsters regardless of income, organizers said. Access to books at a young age sparks children’s love for reading and makes them better prepared to start school, organizers said.

Those benefits come with a price tag, however. The program will cost an estimated $58,000 a year if 60 percent of the county’s preschool-aged children sign up, organizers said.

As fundraising continues, supporters of the program will continue educating their friends and neighbors about its benefits, steering committee chairwoman Candy Short said.

As a former elementary school principal, Short said, she knows the benefits reading with kids has on their development. The more access to books kids have, the better off they’ll be once they enter school, she said.

County statistics show 28 percent of children did not meet the target for a kindergarten literacy assessment in 2014. That means 28 percent of kids are starting school struggling to keep up with their classmates, Short said. Imagination Library should help bridge the gap.

“If you’re starting off below the benchmark, you’ll be trying to catch up from the beginning,” she said. “Why not start with them at grade level?”

But the best benefit of Imagination Library is the bonds it will form among community members, Short said. Each child in the county receiving the same book each month will give all parents a commonality, she said.

“The child born on the farm in Eastern Hancock and the child living in downtown Fortville will have access to the same books,” she said. “(Parents) will all talk the same language.”

Imagination Library will need to build up $2 million over five years to be successful, organizers said. While the community’s generosity has gotten the initiative off to a great state, Gibble said, she’s hopeful that kindness will continue.

Hancock County’s Imagination Library is set to begin enrolling newborn children starting Jan. 1, library director Dave Gray said. Families can come to any library branch to sign up or learn more about the program.

An incremental enrollment program will continue in the following years. Each child will received 12 books a year, building an at-home library of 60 books by the time the youngster is 5, organizers said.

Donations can be made to the Hancock County Community Foundation online at or mailed to 312 E. Main St., Greenfield.

How to help

The community foundation still is raising money for Imagination Library.

Donations can be made to the Hancock County Community Foundation online at or mailed to 312 E. Main St., Greenfield.

Caitlin VanOverberghe is a reporter at the Greenfield Daily Reporter. She can be reached at 317-477-3237 or