HAZARD—“The Little Engine That Could,” “The Tale of Peter Rabbit,” and “Goldilocks and the Three Bears” have been considered classics in children’s literature for decades. A group in Perry County has been working this year to help make sure every child in the county experiences those classics and more before their first day of school.
Attorney and Hazard Rotary Club member Jonathan Collins said the club decided to team up with Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library earlier this year. The nonprofit organization promotes early childhood literacy by supplying free books, with the help of a local sponsor, to all children in specific ZIP codes with a book every month from birth until they are 5 years old.
“Children have the opportunity to get up to 60 books over the period of the program if they sign up from birth,” Collins said, adding that the program is not income-based so every child in that ZIP code who signs up will receive books.
Collins said the club plans to enroll those children in the 41701 ZIP code in Perry County first since it is the ZIP code that spans the largest part of the county. He added that the educational benefits of this program for children in the county are priceless when current early childhood education statistics from the area are considered.
“According to studies, many of the children here in Perry County are not prepared or are not on a sufficient level when they enter kindergarten and preschool,” he explained. “Their reading’s not sufficient to really start to develop and for the teachers to give the children the kind of attention they need to really get them started in their early educational careers.”
Besides the obvious educational benefits of instilling a love for books in children under 5, Collins said the children who receive the books also have a kind of boost in confidence because they are being given something that is specifically theirs.
“Each child in every household gets their own personal book. This not only assists with education but it helps instill a sense of pride and ownership of these books in children at a very young age, which is just an additional benefit,” he said.
Collins said the club is ready to start the program immediately, but is waiting for the approval of their application with the IRS to become a nonprofit sponsor for the organization in order to fundraise for the cost of the program.
“The only portions that the club has to cover is the postage. The Dolly Parton Foundation pays for all the books, we just have to reimburse them for the shipping,” Collins said, noting that it costs about $35 per child per year.
“It’s a wonderful program and for the benefit of the children and the community receives, it far exceeds the cost of the postage,” he added. “We are ready to hit the ground running as soon as we get that approval.”
Collins explained the club is partnering with Hazard ARH, local pediatricians, and the Perry County Public Library to reach out to parents in the area to sign their children up.
Melissa Vermillion, Rotary Club officer, said the club has plans to put displays for the program up in doctors’ offices and at the library to get the word out for parents to sign up.
“We’ve signed up sponsors and I think we have 12-14 sponsors, and we’re going to have retractable banners and displays with the sign up are going to travel among the sponsors,” she said. “So, for instance, at Community Trust Bank on a given month the display may be there so people can see it and that will move around throughout the community in addition to the mainstays.
Collins said the club hopes to have the program up and running by the end of the year so that the community can begin to feel the benefits as soon as possible.
“What we hope to do is by giving these children books at such an early age, we hope that it will also encourage parents to read to their children, help the parents teach their children to read, and hopefully foster a wonderful sense of enjoyment of reading at an early age they will continue on through their educational careers,” he said.