CIRCLEVILLE — More Pickaway County children are now receiving free books as part of the Pickaway Imagination Library program and fundraising will begin soon to help keep the program going.

The Imagination Library program works by having parents sign up their children ages 0-5 for the program they then receive free books each month. The Ohio Governor’s Imagination Library Program partnered with the Dolly Parton Imagination Library in 2019 to take the program statewide, which resulted in Pickaway County’s program.

State lawmakers provided $5 million dollars in funding to match county funds so that these books ($2.10 each) are provided at no cost to Ohio families. Nonprofit organizations in each county administer the program. Ohio is the largest among seven states to offer the program statewide.

The program costs $25 per child each year and is funded through the Pickaway County Well-Being Fund through the Pickaway County Community Foundation. More than 1,300 Pickaway County children are currently enrolled.

The books are picked by a national panel through the Dolly Parton Imagination Library and are age appropriate and often award winning books. A child less than 1-year-old would receive a different book than say a 3-year-old or 5-year-old.

David Fausnaugh, Pickaway County Library director, said they had a goal to enroll 200 when they started the program but it’s taken off from there.

“The feedback and enthusiasm from both participating families and community supporters has been exceptional. When Ohio’s governor and first lady announced their Ohio Governor’s Imagination Library program, it allowed us to quickly double the reach of our program,” he said. “The Pickaway Well-Being Foundation then committed to matching local donations up to $40,000, further expanding the number of families we can serve throughout Pickaway County. We are thrilled to see the growth of the program.”

Starting on Nov. 23, a local fundraiser will be held in an effort to keep funding flowing to maintain the program.

“From Nov. 23 to Dec. 13, the Pickaway County Community Foundation (PCCF) and the Dollywood Foundation will be working together to raise funds for local affiliates that make the book-gifting program possible,” Fausnaugh said. “The upcoming premiere of the documentary The Library That Dolly Built will raise awareness of the Imagination Library, increasing enrollment locally and consequently the need for local funding. PCCF will use its social media presence to raise awareness of the program and how the community can support literacy in Pickaway County. The documentary will premiere online Dec. 9 at 7 p.m.”

Jan Shannon, PCCF executive director, said they’ll be posting daily to their Facebook page to remind people. The goal for the fundraiser is $10,000 locally which will be $30,000 when it’s all said and done due to matching funds.

“Through this campaign people will be able to make their pledge and we’ll have a thermometer to track our goal,” she said. “We want to get as many kids enrolled as we can. It’s not an income eligible program, it’s for every child under the age of 5 in this county. It’s such a wonderful opportunity for children and their parents especially when people aren’t shopping for books due to the pandemic.”

Fausnaugh said studies have shown how important early literacy is for children.

“Education and specifically literacy are incredibly important to a child’s success in life,” he said. “Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library helps equal the playing field for children from all backgrounds. Access to books plays a vital role in early childhood education. Going to the library and checking out books is wonderful, and all families should come visit. Imagination Library is simply another way to put books in the hands of kids, and anything we can do to increase the number of books in a child’s home is significant.”

Shannon said any educator would share the importance of early literacy.

“Every book is something new to read to that child,” she said. “What a great start and a great foundation to start on. Any of your educators will tell you that this will help them excel in school.”

Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine and his wife Ohio First Lady Fran DeWine, announced this week that the program is in all 88 Ohio Counties.

“Fran and I hope the Imagination Library will help set up kids on a successful path to kindergarten, so they may all be at the same starting line, and not behind,” DeWine said. “During these tough times in the COVID-19 pandemic, children continue to learn, grow, and dream. Having free books in the home certainly might be even more important at this time.”

“We know that children who are exposed to language and reading — starting when they are born — have higher literacy rates and greater academic achievements when they are older compared with children who don’t have that early benefit. A child enrolled in the Ohio Imagination Library Program at birth can receive up to 60 books by the time he or she turns five years old, setting them up for success in kindergarten and beyond. It’s a simple but a very important thing we can do for our kids, especially now in the face of a pandemic.”

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