Submitted by United Way of Whatcom County

In March of 2022, United Way of Whatcom County brought Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library to our community. This low-barrier book program mails one new book each month to enrolled children from birth to age 5 at no cost to families. In just one year of operation, over 26,000 books have been mailed to kids in Whatcom County. 

“We were thrilled to bring Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library to Whatcom County and offer it to local kids and families, and we’ve been even more thrilled about the response we’ve seen,” said United Way CEO Kristi Birkeland. “The number of children enrolled in the program far exceeds the expectations we had for our first year of growth. The number of kids who have registered to receive free books from the Imagination Library is what we would expect to see well into year two. This incredible growth highlights how hungry our community was for this kind of program, and we’re proud to be able to help set our littlest learners up for success.”

Early childhood literacy rates fell sharply during the pandemic. United Way of Whatcom County’s goal in bringing this program to our community is to assist with pandemic literacy recovery and provide critical early learning tools to kids who may not otherwise have access.

“We want every child in Whatcom County to be able to benefit from having Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library available in our community,” says United Way of Whatcom County’s Imagination Library Coordinator Denise Kilcline. Photo courtesy United Way of Whatcom County

How does it work?

Registered children receive an age-appropriate book in the mail each month addressed specifically to them. The books are selected by a national committee of early childhood literacy experts with the intent to provide a variety of inclusive and diverse titles that cover feel good topics. The Blue Ribbon Book Selection Committee takes great care in choosing books that meet the different needs of children as they progress from birth to age five. There are two bi-lingual books (English/Spanish) per child per year. Books are also offered in braille.

Kids receive books from time of enrollment until their fifth birthday, at which time they receive a letter from Dolly printed in the last book (Look Out Kindergarten, Here I Come) encouraging them to continue with their love of books and learning.

Recent studies suggest participation in the Imagination Library is positively and significantly associated with higher measures of early language and math development. Findings from the body of Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library research indicate the program is extremely popular in the communities where it’s implemented and shows promise in promoting changes in home literacy environments, children’s attitudes toward reading, and early literacy skills.

The launch of the Imagination Library in Whatcom County coincided with a larger effort to expand the program throughout Washington State. A bill was introduced in the Washington State Legislature January 19, 2022, that made the Imagination Library an official statewide program. Many local United Ways have joined in the effort to help expand this program, becoming affiliates in their respective counties. The statewide rollout received strong support from the Washington Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) with over $2 million in matching funds to make the program even more cost effective for regional affiliates through June of 2023.

United Way of Whatcom County’s Imagination Library Coordinator Denise Kilcline indicated they have been partnering with a variety of organizations locally to reach as many kids as possible and maximize the success of this program.

“We want every child in Whatcom County to be able to benefit from having Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library available in our community,” Kilcline says. “Not only is this program a wonderful way to foster a love of reading in local kids and families, it’s also a great tool to prepare our littlest learners for long-term success in school and life.”

For more information about this program, visit United Way of Whatcom County’s Website

To register a local child, click here.

About Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library

Since launching in 1995, Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library has become the preeminent early childhood book gifting program in the world. The flagship program of The Dollywood Foundation, a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization, has gifted well over 199 million free books in the United States, Canada, United Kingdom, Australia, and The Republic of Ireland. The Imagination Library mails more than 1.8 million high-quality, age-appropriate books each month to registered children from birth to age five. Dolly envisioned creating a lifelong love of reading, inspiring them to dream. The impact of the program has been widely researched and results suggest positive increases in key early childhood literacy metrics. Penguin Random House is the exclusive publisher for Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library. 

For more information about Imagination Library, visit imaginationlibrary.com.  

About United Way of Whatcom County

United Way works with local nonprofits, businesses, and community members to support financial stability in Whatcom County. By funding a variety of nonprofit programs that provide basic needs and increase economic mobility, they are helping to break the cycle of poverty for individuals and families in Whatcom County. Making sure Whatcom County families have access to high quality early learning opportunities, childcare, and parent support programs is a critical element of their work to enable financial stability for every person in our community.

For more information about United Way of Whatcom County, visit www.unitedwaywhatcom.org.

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