“Here's something fun,” writes Tina Payne, Executive Director of United Way of Harvey County on Facebook. “I just registered a newborn in the Dolly Parton Imagination Library...like really new...like three days old! His mom told me she read Dr. Seuss to him while he was still in the womb. How beautiful is that? Never too young to start reading to your child.”
Tina’s right. Early reading is linked to kindergarten readiness. Kindergarten readiness leads to third grade reading proficiency. And, third grade reading proficiency is tied to high school completion. There are many ways to help kids learn to read early, including registering newborns and children up to age five for the Dolly Parton Imagination Library (DPIL) to receive a free, age-appropriate book each month.
With a staff of one and a committed and enthusiastic volunteer board, United Way of Harvey County launched DPIL in Newton, Kansas just two years ago. Currently more than 650 local children receive the books and another 260 graduated from the program when they turned five. United Way set out to reach 60 percent of children in the county by the end of five years; currently, the program is at 90 percent of that goal.
This kind of achievement takes vision, a vision of children who are prepared for school and lifelong success. And it takes volunteers. And so, on International Literacy Day, here’s a shout out to the contributions by United Way volunteers across the globe committed to improving childhood literacy. United Way of Harvey County’s volunteers have made a difference when they launched DPIL. Then there’s the 500 corporate volunteers led by United Way of Greater Portland (ME) who read to students, collect and distribute books, and create literacy kits each year. This summer, United Way of Harrisonburg and Rockingham County (VA) mobilized volunteers to help with Summer Reading Parties, and Heartland United Way (NE) volunteers installed 7 Little Free Libraries across four counties.