By LANA CLIFTON
In March of this year, the Bryant Chamber of Commerce set up the 20/20 committee to support and develop youth programs for the city. One of the early goals of the organization was to find a program that would cultivate early literacy. The committee looked at different programs to assist in this goal.
At the beginning of summer, Patty Bokony, a co-coordinator of the group, brought in information about Dolly’s Imagination Library. This early literacy program was started by Dolly Parton and was designed to provide children 5-years-old and younger with a library of age appropriate books by sending them a new book every month. The group decided it seemed to be a solid program with a good track record of success in other communities, and that it was worth looking into.[more]
Derek Phillips, the Recreation Superintendent for the Bryant Parks and Recreation Department, sent out an email inviting 20/20 members, city officials, members of the press and others to come to a meeting on July 27 to discuss the program. He said 14 people came to listen to Pam Hunsaker, a representative from the Imagination Library organization, speak about what was needed to start the program.
“We have been working hard on it ever since,” said Phillips.
According to Phillips, the first step was to find a 501c3 non-profit organization to serve as a key collaborator. The Bryant Boys and Girls Club was approached, and an agreement was reached. The club will not support the Imagination Library financially, but its name will appear on registration brochures and as the local return address on mail-outs.
At first, the plan was to provide the Imagination Library to families in the Bryant school district. As things progressed and 20/20 began talking to the Saline County Library system about the project, the idea was presented to include all families within Saline County.
At a meeting held Thursday, Aug. 27, the 20/20 committee made the decision to partner with other cities and volunteers in the county to make Imagination Library a countywide program. The Saline County Libraries agreed to assist by entering data from registration brochures and helping with publicity and fundraising for the project.
Moving forward, the group will need to raise funds before officially launching the program. In fact, according to Phillips, they will need to raise 50 percent of the estimated cost for the first year before they can set a launch date. At this time, the goal is to have enough funds in place to do so by January 2010.
At a meeting to be held Thursday, Sept. 3 at 7 p.m., in the Mabel Boswell Library, a figure will be presented representing the number of children under age 5 living in Saline County. Using percentages recommended by the Imagination Library organization, the 20/20 committee and volunteers from around Saline County will be able to project how much money will need to be raised to accomplish the goal.
Businesses and individuals will be able to donate to the organization soon. The approximate cost per child served will be $30 per year. This will cover the cost of books and postage needed to mail the books to the children. Although the group is not quite ready to accept donations, Phillips said those interested in donating should call 501-847-7275 to be put on a list to do so when everything is set up. He also encouraged anyone seeking more information about the project to contact him at that number.
Bokony stressed the importance of early literacy. She said the early childhood period is when the brain grows the most. “The more you do during that age, the bigger the rewards are,” she said.
Looking forward, Bokony said it would be interesting to see how the children enrolled in the program would score on benchmark exams. She said she had seen figures showing that this type of program had a significant and positive impact on such scores in other communities.
More information about Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library can be obtained at www.dollysimaginationlibrary.com.