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Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library Program Expands Reach Thanks to Michigan Nonprofit

By Tammy Pitts - MNA Director of Communications

March is reading month and children across Michigan have access to free books thanks to a partnership between a local nonprofit and Dolly Parton. Yes, Dolly Parton. If there is one thing that most people can agree on is their mutual love for Dolly. Am I right?  

Michigan Nonprofit Association member Communities In Schools Michigan (CIS) and the Lansing Housing Commission(LHC) collaborated with Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library to get books into the hands of children in mid-Michigan. “The earlier children learn to read, the more ready for kindergarten they will be,” said Meg McElhone, Director of Resource Development and Implementation, Communities In Schools. “One of the things Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library encourages is that parents read to their kids for at least 15 minutes every day. This encourages a love of reading in children that we hope lasts a lifetime.”

Here’s how the book gifting program works: Families who live within eligible zip codes can register for a free book for their children up to the age of 5. The book is delivered to the child’s home each month at zero cost. Experts say if a child is enrolled in the program at birth, they will own their own little library by the time they enter kindergarten. The little library that Dolly built.   

Parton launched Imagination Library in 1995 initially to benefit children in Sevier County, Tennessee where she grew up. It became an overnight success and expanded nationwide and even overseas. The book initiative reached mid-Michigan in 2017 when a former employee of CIS and two Michigan Nonprofit Association VISTAs came up with the idea to bring it to Lansing. They started Imagination Library in three zip codes: 48915, 48911, and 48933. However, following a recent conversation with an employee at LHC, the nonprofit realized they needed to expand. “Lansing Housing Commission employee Kristine Ranger found one of the flyers hung in Lansing by MNA VISTA Treya Dykstra-Swords,” McElhone explained. “Kristine is a former teacher who believed the reading program would greatly benefit children living in LHC housing, but only a couple of their housing developments were in our current codes.”

And so a partnership between CIS and LHC was formed. “We were able to add zip code 48906 which opened up several more development locations to participate,” said McElhone. The initiative is funded by a private foundation and the LHC. McElhone says they are currently registering families in the 48906 zip code and more than a thousand children in the Lansing area under age 5 are now receiving books monthly from Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library. Pretty impressive!

I did a little digging and learned the United Way of Southwest Michigan is also involved with this program which includes the counties of Berrien, Cass and Van Buren, and there are also zip codes in the Detroit area

Even in a pandemic, Michigan nonprofits are hard at work giving back to their communities because it’s even more important now than ever before for kids to have access to books. And while kids under five might be too young to know every word to her hit song ‘9 to 5’, Dolly Parton is captivating a whole new generation through books.

To learn more about Imagination Library and find out if your zip code is included in this program: https://imaginationlibrary.com/check-availability/

Communities In Schools hopes to eventually blanket the entire city of Lansing with books--reaching children in Ingham, Clinton and Eaton counties. To achieve that goal, they will need partners. If you’re interested in helping to fund a zip code, contact CIS. Click here to learn more about the AmeriCorps VISTA program.