CIRCLEVILLE — More Pickaway County children will now receive free books in the mail thanks to an additional pledge of funding through the newly created Ohio Governor’s Imagination Library.

According to the Ohio Governor’s Imagination Library, every partner organization will receive a 100 percent match of funds to pay for books through the Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library. Ohio Governor Mike DeWine approved a $5 million grant for the program in July.

The program, which partners with the international Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library, will work with the existing programs in places like Pickaway County and essentially double the funding available to enroll children in the free program. Currently in Pickaway County about 200 children, ages zero to five, are enrolled, which is roughly four percent of the population.

David Fausnaugh, Pickaway County Library Director, said he and Jan Shannon, executive director of the Pickaway County Community Foundation, have signed the Memorandum of Understanding with the Ohio Governor’s Imagination Library and are waiting for it to kick in.

“Once it kicks in we’ll double our enrollment,” Fausnaugh said. “This is huge. We started the program with the idea that we didn’t care if we only got three kids served — it was still three kids. To double from 200 to 400 is important. Every kid counts. We’re not going to exclude anyone and we’re going to level the playing field.”

Fausnaugh said there has been a lot of interest in the program, which originally filled up very quickly.

“We have 30 kids on the waiting list right now and that’s not really advertising it, just people knowing it exists,” he continued. “Finding the kids to enroll is not the issue, it’ll be the funding and we’re going to continue to work on that. It’s an easy sell to the community because who doesn’t want to put books in the hands of kids.”

Gary Scherer, Ohio State Representative (R-92), was on hand for a question and answer session between representatives of the local program, like Fausnaugh and Donna Solovey, director of Pickaway County Head Start, and those involved at the state level.

“The Governor and First Lady announced the legislation informally to groups of legislators back in early spring the foundations to support and do matching grants for local communities that were involved in the Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library,” Scherer stated. “Every one of us that heard about it got excited. I knew they had started one here and the first question I had was if the community has a program going if they would qualify for the matching funding and fortunately the answer is — yes.”

Scherer said the state money will come through some money from the state legislature but also through donations generated by the statewide organization.

“It’ll be some tax money but largely private donations — the Governor and Mrs. DeWine are going to be doing that fundraising personally,” Scherer added. “They are so passionate about it.”

Scherer said he knows the importance of the program and what it means for the community and its children.

“It’s something that even a non-educator like me realizes the value of getting books into the hands of young kids,” he commented. “It’s immeasurable.”

Ohio Governor Mike DeWine discussed the program at the Buckeye State Sheriff’s Association meeting in late August. The initiative to create the Ohio Governor’s Imagination Library has been a priority for Ohio First Lady Fran DeWine.

“The Ohio Governor’s Imagination Library will give children across Ohio the opportunity to receive new books and begin expanding their horizons from the moment they are born,” Fran DeWine said.

According to the imagination Library website, the program began in 1988 to “inspire children in [Parton’s] home county to achieve educational success.” The reading program began in 1995, first serving Parton’s home state of Tennessee, and then expanded nationwide in 2000. It expanded again to Canada in 2006, the UK in 2007, Australia in 2013 and Ireland in 2019. The program has mailed more than 120 million books to more than 1.4 million children since 1995.

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