Launching Literacy

Launching Literacy

Herndon Rotary Club brings books to children through Dolly Parton's Imagination Library Project.

Although Dolly Parton might not be coming to Herndon, her literacy project is scheduled to kick off this Saturday following the Herndon High School Homecoming parade.

Initiated by the Rotary Club of Herndon, the event is the group's latest community service project dedicated to increasing literacy among the town's youth.

"Every child, from the time they are born until they are five years old, will get a book a month," said Richard Downer, Rotary member and co-chairman of the project.

"Some of the books will be in English and some in Spanish," said the Herndon-business owner.

The program — Dolly Parton's Imagination Library Project — is designed specifically for pre-kindergarten children, according to Downer.

Since its inception, 3,524,720 books have been mailed to children's homes in participating neighborhoods across the country, according to the official Dolly Parton Imagination Library Web site.

A scheduled 188,102 books were to be mailed in October, according to the site.

Downer first learned of the literacy program after visiting Georgia and thought it would be a good fit for the town of Herndon. He presented the idea to members of the Rotary Club and they agreed to pursue the program, said Downer.

Funding for the project came from the Rotary Club of Herndon and Millennium Bank, which gave close to $20,000 to get the program running.

Through the program, children from birth until their fifth birthday will receive one free age-appropriate book. The books will continue to be free for all participants as long as they live within the town's limits. The goal of the project is to encourage parents to read to their children from birth and to help children prepare for kindergarten.

Currently there are 534 communities in 41 states participating in the program, according to the official Web site. Most of the programs are in rural areas, but because of Downer's involvement, the organizers of the Dollywood Foundation have worked with Herndon's Rotary Club to ensure the program would fit the town.

USING THE 2000 census for the town, Dollywood Foundation organizers estimate that there are a little under 2,000 children eligible for the program.

The goal is to enroll 80 percent of that population within the first five years, said Downer.

Once operating, this will be one of the first urban community projects sponsored by a civic club, according to Downer.

Books will be mailed to participants through a partnership with the Council for the Arts of Herndon because it is a nonprofit organization. The corporate sponsorship is with Millennium Bank, according to Downer. Millennium Bank and members of the Rotary Club of Herndon plan to raise the annual funding costs of the program — roughly $29 per year for books and mailing per child — through individual and corporate donations. Community fundraising events will also be held to help with the program, said Downer.

During the kick off event Saturday, scheduled to begin at 11 a.m., parents and guardians can register for Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library Project.

Sample books will be available and local dignitaries are scheduled to read to the children in attendance.

The program is free for participating families during the entire length of a series — this can be up to 60 books over a five-year period. A child may enter the program at any age up to three months before their fifth birthday and will receive books appropriate for the age they enter the program. The books are mailed each month directly to each child. The only qualification is that the child must continue to reside within the town limits of the Town of Herndon.

Donations are also being accepted to help fund the program from members in the community, said Downer.

Registration forms will be available at the Herndon branch of Millennium Bank, 1051 Elden Street, and the Herndon Fortnightly Library, 768 Center Street, after the kick off event. Rotary members and Herndon High School's Interact Club also plan to contact local childcare facilities in town to promote the program.