March 9, 2014 12:09:06 AM
A free book mailed each month to every child under the age of 5 in Lowndes County.
That is the ultimate goal of Lowndes County Imagination Library, a non-profit effort The Dispatch launched last week in partnership with the Columbus Arts Council.
It does not matter what the income of the child's parents is. It does not matter where in the county the child lives. If the child is under 5, he or she can enter the program and it costs participating families nothing.
The aim is to foster a love of reading among preschool children, said Peter Imes, The Dispatch general manager.
"Exposure to books at an early age has a lasting impact on a child," he said. "Studies have shown that portions of a child's brain are literally turned on by hearing their parents talk, sing and read."
The new program is an affiliate of Dolly Parton's Imagination Library, which was launched by the country music legend in 1996 to benefit east Tennessee children, according to the program's national website. In an open letter posted on the website, Parton writes, "seeds you help plant in your community can grow across the world."
In the last 18 years, Parton's program has spread to roughly 1,600 communities around the country and nearly 700,000 children have collectively received 40 million books.
The Lowndes County Imagination Library is the 15th program started in Mississippi, according to Christy Crouse, regional director with Dolly Parton's Imagination Library.
Approximately 9,794 children in the state are receiving books through the program, according to Crouse.
"One of the most effective ways to prepare children for school is to read to them during the first five years of life," she said. "However, a staggering number of children live in homes without any reading material -- largely because the parents simply cannot afford books and they aren't aware of the importance of reading to their child at such a young age."
There are 4,170 children in Lowndes County under the age of 5, according to the latest census numbers. The Dispatch has provided enough seed money for its Lowndes County Imagination Library program to fund 300 children and plans to make additional donations later this year. The newspaper hopes to find community partners to expand the program in the years to come. It costs $25 to fund one child through each year.
"We're excited about the program," Publisher Birney Imes said. "With the help of community partners we hope, in time, to enroll every qualified child in the county."
The books are geared toward the child's age and reading level. But the overall theme is always "inspiration and imagination," Crouse said.
Once a child signs up, his or her first book -- which is always "The Little Engine That Could" -- will be mailed out six to nine months later. A new book is then mailed every month until the child turns 5 or moves out of Lowndes County.
Haylie Quatrevingt, the local coordinator for Lowndes County Imagination Library, said six children were signed up for the program last week.
"I think this program is profound in its simplicity," Birney Imes said. "A young child gets in the mail once a month a book addressed to him. That book provides the child an opportunity to explore alone or share with a parent or older sibling the magic of the printed word."
Baptist Memorial Hospital-Golden Triangle has agreed to hand out brochures about the Lowndes County Imagination Library program to the parents of every newborn.
Children must be entered into the program by their parents. Interested families can sign up by filling out a form available at The Dispatch's downtown office or at the Rosenzweig Arts Center. You can also call 662-328-2424.
William Browning was managing editor for The Dispatch until June 2016.
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