Young children in all Colorado zip codes could soon qualify to receive free books through a new statewide expansion of the Imagination Library, a global book-gifting program started by country singer Dolly Parton.
In a video posted online this week, Parton joined Gov. Jared Polis and other officials to announce the partnership and call on more local partners to enroll.
“We’ve still got some work to do in Colorado, but we’re gonna get there,” Parton said. “Let’s put some wings on and get more books in the hands of children.”
Parton’s nonprofit has had a presence in Colorado since 2005. The program says it delivers books to about 16,000 children each month and is available in at least 22 cities and counties in the state, including Denver and Colorado Springs.
The expansion will focus on growing that number to include all 64 counties. Leaders hope to partner with community organizations, such as schools, libraries and other nonprofits that can fundraise alongside the international organization and enroll new families.
“These local partners are the heart of the program,” Parton said.
A bill passed during last year’s legislative session paved the way for Imagination’s growth. The measure directed the Colorado Department of Education to hire a state chapter of Parton’s nonprofit to work with local affiliates.
“Ensuring that students are reading at grade level by third grade is one of our most important priorities here at the department,” said Katy Anthes, Colorado’s education commissioner. “It will be so exciting.”
Since its launch in 1995, Imagination Library has delivered millions of books across the United States and around the world. Once a family enrolls, Imagination says it will mail one “high-quality, age-appropriate” book to their household each month.
Early childhood experts pick the books, according to the organization. The topics vary depending on age group. Older kids receive books about everything from science and folk tales to school readiness, while books for infants focus on colorful illustrations and simple text.
Jack Tate, CEO of Imagination’s Colorado chapter, said Colorado’s statewide rollout will take at least a year or two to complete. “At-risk” neighborhoods are the organization’s highest priority, he said.
“These are communities with higher poverty rates, school lunch program participation, lower reading scores and limited library access,” Tate said. “If there isn’t a program in your community, we’d love your help getting it established.”
That includes a lot of rural Colorado, Tate added.
“It’s a program for all children, but to get the most success we want to try to do what we can and focus where the need is greatest,” he said.
Children 5-years-old and younger are eligible. Families can check to see if delivery is available in their community on the program’s website.
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