GREENFIELD — When Mary Gibble’s phone pinged with a message saying Hancock County’s first baby of the new year had been born at Hancock Regional Hospital, she felt a jolt of excitement.
After years of planning and months of preparation, it was finally time to put Hancock County’s Imagination Library train on its tracks.
The initiative, which aims to put books in the hands of children across the county by mailing out free books each month to local families, gained its first member Friday, when Michael and Kendra Ball of Greenfield welcomed their daughter, Kayla.
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Measuring just over 20 inches long and weighing about 8 pounds, the couple’s first daughter had a book to start her own library before she was 24 hours old. Gibble and a few representatives from the Hancock County Community Foundation, one of the organizations spearheading the literacy initiative, visited the family’s hospital room after Kayla’s birth to enroll the newborn in the program.
Now organizers are reminding families who also will welcome babies in 2016 to sign up to join the program. Enrollment forms are available at the Hancock County Public Library. The program is free for any Hancock County resident regardless of income thanks to ongoing fundraising efforts through the community foundation, organizers said.
Imagination Library was started in Tennessee by Dolly Parton’s Dollywood Foundation. The program has grown to encompass communities across North America, the United Kingdom and Australia, according to the organization’s website.
Kayla received a copy of “The Little Engine That Could” as one of her first birthday presents. From now until age 5, Kayla will grow a library of 60 age-appropriate books, delivered each month to her home, organizers said.
Per Parton’s wishes, all children enrolled in the program receive “The Little Engine That Could” as the first title in their personal library, and the last book they receive is “Look out Kindergarten, Here I Come” as they prepare to start school, Gibble said.
An incremental enrollment program will continue from now until 2020.
Kendra Ball said she was happy to have organizers of the literacy program visit Kayla at the hospital. She hadn’t heard of Imagination Library before and was eager to join. She wished such an initiative existed in the county when her three boys were born, she said.
As a mother and preschool teacher, Ball knows the important role reading to youngsters plays in their development, she said. She regularly visits the Hancock County Public Library with her kids, and stories at bedtime are a must at her house, she said.
Rob Matt, chief operating officer at Hancock Regional Hospital, said the facility plans to hand out information about Imagination Library to new parents before they leave the hospital. Staff already assembles packets of information that detail resources around the county for new parents, and those bundles will now include pamphlets about the literacy program and instructions for signing up.
The Hancock County Community Foundations seeks donations to help support the county’s newest literacy initiative, Imagination Library.
Donations to fund the program can be made to the Hancock County Community Foundation online at givehcgrowhc.org or mailed to 312 E. Main St., Greenfield.