Jasper County's Books for Little Friends is now up and running and will allow kids under age five in Jasper County to enroll to receive one free age and topic appropriate book each month.
Books for Little Friends received $15,000 to kick start its program, which operates through Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library. The Jasper, Marion, Poweshiek Early Childhood initiative provided a $5,000 grant while Jasper Community Foundation added a $10,000 grant for the program to begin operations. Friends of the Newton Public Library is the nonprofit sponsoring the program.
The seed for Books for Little Friends in Jasper County was sown by Sheila Bower, Administrative Assistant at the Pregnancy Center of Central Iowa. Before her family returned to Iowa, her children were recipients of monthly books from the Dolly Parton Imagination Library organization in Minnesota. Bower recalled how excited her kids were when the books arrived in the mail each month. “Even as toddlers, they just loved getting their books from the mailbox,” she recalled.
She mentioned the program to Rita Baker, Director of the Pregnancy Center, and was encouraged to research the project to discover how the Imagination Library could be started for Jasper County’s children. Baker, who is currently the Chair of the Library Board of Trustees and the Chair of the Friends of the Newton Public Library, also shared their excitement with Nicole Terry, Library Director, and Phyllis Peter, Youth Services Librarian. Both library employees had been interested in the project for some time.
Peter stated, “This program is so wonderful, putting books directly into the hands of young families. My hope is that it will inspire parents to make reading to their child a part of their daily routine. Children that are read to at home have such a boost to learning, and it’s a wonderful time of shared closeness between a parent and child.
Bower discovered that the main requirement for starting Books for Little Friends was having the funds in the bank for the first two years of operation, based on the Dolly Parton Imagination Library’s projected enrollment for years one and two which they based on the county’s population. Baker proceeded to write the two grant requests, which were enthusiastically awarded to benefit early childhood education.
The program is free, and the only requirement is that the child must reside in Jasper County. As of the end of September, Jasper County Books for Little Friends has over 625 kids signed up to receive a new book monthly. Bower administers the database and serves as Treasurer, and is also a member of the Friends of the Library.
‘Books for Little Friends’ gets its stock from Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library. In 1995, Dolly Parton launched an exciting new effort to benefit the children of her home county in east Tennessee. Dolly wanted to foster a love of reading among her county’s preschool children and their families by giving each child one free book per month from birth to age five.
Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library is dedicated to inspiring a love of reading by gifting books free of charge, through funding shared by Dolly Parton and local community partners in the United States, United Kingdom, Canada, Australia and Republic of Ireland.
Inspired by her father’s inability to read and write, Dolly started her Imagination Library in 1995 for the children within her home county. Today, her program spans five countries and gifts over one million free books each month to children around the world.
“When I was growing up in the hills of East Tennessee, I knew my dreams would come true. I know there are children in your community with their own dreams. They dream of becoming a doctor or an inventor or a minister. Who knows, maybe there is a little girl whose dream is to be a writer and singer. The seeds of these dreams are often found in books and the seeds you help plant in your community can grow across the world.”
In the days ahead, more community investment will be needed. The current enrollment, only two months into the Jasper County program, has already exceeded 50% of what was projected by the Dolly Parton Imagination Library for its first five years.
“This is a wonderful problem to have,” states Baker, “as it shows the great interest in early childhood reading and education.” More grant applications are in the works, and a vigorous campaign to raise additional funds is beginning for Jasper County businesses, organizations and individuals to sponsor Books for Little Friends.
To sign up your child, visit the website: bit.ly/jasperimaginationlibrary
Visit the Newton Public Library for a paper registration from.