IMAGINE THAT: Teen forgoes graduation party to raise money for children’s literacy program

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Nolan Hemminger-Jones

GREENFIELD — One recent Greenfield-Central graduate didn’t want a party to celebrate his high school commencement.

He just wanted to buy books for kids.

Nolan Hemminger-Jones opted to have a fundraiser for the Imagination Library program in lieu of having a party after graduating on July 11.

“I’ve always just wanted to give back to the community, especially the youth, because they’re our future and we have to invest in them,” he said.

A voracious reader since he was a kid, the college-bound teen wanted to celebrate his high school commencement in a way that could inspire others to read as well. He chose raising funds for Imagination Library, an early childhood literacy program that sends books to children.

The nationwide program was launched by the Dollywood Foundation and singer Dolly Parton in 1995.

Imagination Library of Hancock County kicked off in 2016, as a partnership between the Hancock County Community Foundation and the Hancock County Public Library.

The community foundation worked with the community to build a $2 million endowment to cover book expenses and sustain the Imagination Library program, which provides age-appropriate books to children born in Hancock County on or after January 1, 2016.

Books are delivered monthly to each child’s home until they turn 5 years old.

Since its inception, the local program has mailed more than 48,000 books to more than 2,0000 enrolled kids.

Hemminger-Jones thinks the program is essential to instilling a love of reading in children, especially those who might not have the role models or resources to encourage them.

Starting out reading or being read to from a young age can create a lifelong love of reading, he said, which can help people of all ages to expand their horizons and learn more about the world around them.

“When you read, it can help you to form more educated opinions, and that helps society to be more diverse in their thinking,” said Hemminger-Jones, 18, the son of Thomas and Kathy Jones of Greenfield.

His mom was thrilled to grant her son’s wish of having a fundraiser in lieu of a graduation party.

“I think all the money I would have spent on organizing it went to a good cause. Parties are still great, but I think Nolan in the long run is going to remember this even more,” she said.

The virtual fundraiser not only fostered her son’s philanthropic spirit, it also seemed like a safer bet than putting on a party in the midst of the pandemic. Since all their relatives live out of state, a virtual fundraiser seemed like a great way to celebrate her son’s accomplishments.

“We thought this was a safe way to celebrate and a way to give back,” she said.

The family sent out invitations for the fundraiser to friends and family through emails and Facebook. The invitation included a quote from the graduate himself that said: “Books are tickets to the mind to travel.”

Hemminger-Jones has already surpassed his $2,000 goal and is taking donations through the end of July.

Emily Wethington, an advancement officer with the Hancock County Community Foundation, was moved when the teen expressed interest in having a fundraiser for the program in honor of his high school commencement.

“Our initial reaction was, ‘What a selfless and wonderful gift to give to the children of our community.’ It has been wonderful working with Nolan’s family to help share on social media and celebrate his thoughtful gift to literacy,” she said.

Kathy Jones said her son’s love of reading was evident since he was a young boy. He started out reading a series based in a museum, which prompted their family to visit museums. His love of Curious George books may have fostered his curious nature, she said. “To this day we call him Curious George.”

“He read books about every single state and every country, which has made him want to travel,” his mom said.

Through a school travel program called Education First, Hemminger-Jones has already visited Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Italy, Vatican City, Lichtenstein, France, the Czech Republic and the Netherlands with Greenfield-Central classmates.

He’ll soon head to Butler University to major in international studies. He then hopes to go to law school and become an attorney.

“Eventually in the long run I would really like to get into politics, whether it’s around here or somewhere else, or on the national level,” he said.

He attributes his lofty goals to his lifelong love of reading.

Hemminger-Jones first learned about Imagination Library through his volunteer work with the Friends of the Hancock County Library, for which he’s been a board member since he was in the eighth grade.

A former board member was sick with cancer, and reached out to Kathy Jones to see if she thought her son would want to take his place on the board. Hemminger-Jones has been serving on the board and supporting the library ever since.

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Imagination Library of Hancock County is part of a national child literacy program created and funded by Dolly Parton.

Locally, the program provides an age-appropriate book to all qualifying children every month, from birth through their fifth birthday. Children who are residents of Hancock County, born on or after January 1, 2016, are eligible to enroll.

Imagination Library Celebration Week is coming up Sept. 14-18. The community will be invited to share the program’s milestones:

–$2 million endowment milestone

–2,000-plus children enrolled

–48,680 books mailed since January 1, 2016

More information — including details on how to donate to the program — is available at www.givehcgrowhc.org/imagination-library.

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