Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library brings the magic of reading to preschool children worldwide

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The High Road on Dawson has launched the first branch in Austin to support Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library. Bringing the magic of reading to local preschool children, Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library has distributed over 70 million books to four countries around the world: United States, United Kingdom, Australia and Canada. Dolly’s beloved organization is present within other Texas cities—but there wasn’t a branch in Austin until now. Thankfully, The High Road on Dawson and its committee raised enough funds to bring the Imagination Library to another city in The Lone Star State. 

The Imagination Library is a non-profit organization based in Sevier County, TennesseeThe High Road on Dawson (THROD) is a member based non-profit charity in ATX. For two years The High Road on Dawson committee strived to open an account. Finally their dream became a reality for the local community and the Imagination Library will make its debut in the 78721 zip code

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The history, mission and vision of Dolly’s Imagination Library is quite interesting. “In 1995, Dolly Parton launched an exciting new effort, Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library, to benefit the children of her home county in East Tennessee, USA. Her father, Robert Lee Parton, was the inspiration of Dolly’s Imagination Library. Dolly’s vision was to foster a love of reading among her county’s preschool children and their families by providing them with the gift of a specially selected book each month. By mailing high quality, age-appropriate books directly to their homes, she wanted children to be excited about books and to feel the magic that books can create. Moreover, she could insure that every child would have books, regardless of their family’s income. Dolly’s Imagination Library became so popular that in the year 2000 she announced that she would make the program available for replication to any community that was willing to partner with her to support it locally. Already statistics and independent reports have shown Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library drastically improves early childhood literacy for children enrolled in the program. Further studies have shown improved scores during early literacy testing.”

The Board of Directors at The High Road on Dawson are immensely proud of their two team leaders that brought the Imagination Library into fruition within Austin: Monica Keller and Jen Philhower. Recently, Keller and Philhower spoke with local writer and fellow THROD member, Nicolette Mallow, to further discuss Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library, the new branch in Austin and their passion for childhood education. A recording of the entire interview can be found online. 

Nicolette Mallow: Will you tell me how The High Road on Dawson came to be involved with Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library?

The High Road on Dawson: So, we are both members of the lodge at The High Road on Dawson. We were Elks members prior to that and we both participated in a committee that was put together just to create charitable events. One of the purposes behind the lodge, besides community, is to do charitable things. In the committee, we kind of discovered that there were a bunch of us that are fans of Dolly (Parton) and we just think she’s a spectacular human, a great entertainer and just this awesome, cool person. An entity that deserved recognition. We really like her… Then one of our committee members, I think it was Heather, she asked if we had seen or heard about the Imagination Library. So then we got to talking about Dolly a lot more. And since we knew her birthday (January 19), the lodge at THROD decided to throw a birthday party in honor of Dolly Parton every year. Forever. There are a lot of events where we pay homage in Austin to different musicians. We have a Buck Owens birthday party, a Loretta Lynn pie social and the HAAM fundraiser. Suddenly we had the realization that there was no Dolly event and that she deserved her own special party. That was like a light bulb and we began hosting a Dolly’s Birthday Party and soon after it was suggested we should open our own branch of the Imagination Library. And we decided that the birthday party would be the fundraiser. We didn’t realize at the time the party would be a sellout and so successful! It was entirely conceivable that it would’ve just been us sitting upstairs with friends and musicians singing songs. 

NM: What is the goal for the next year between THROD and the Imagination Library?

THROD: They have a set series of goals for membership. Their 5 year plan is that within the first year, your branch gets 20% of eligible kids to sign up. And by year five the goal is to have 100% of the eligible kids signed up. Their goals are 20% every year and they give you the costs that would be associated with sending out all the books each year. Our personal goal is to have that done in four years and by the fifth year add an additional zip code. That is our hope and our goal. 

NM: My understanding is that each month for five years, preschool children receive books in the mail from the Imagination Library. Sent directly to their home so the little ones can begin their own book collection. However, are the monthly books preselected or are the books selected at random?

THROD: Yes, there is a series of books and everything is pre-selected and planned out by the Imagination Library month-to-month each year. The series actually starts with “The Little Engine That Could” We also looked briefly into the books and they’re gender neutral, they don’t have any sort of political and religious message. They’re just classic children’s books to introduce kids to the magic of reading and imagination. 

For more information about Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library please visit the website at www.imaginationlibrary.com. Parents or guardians that wish to enroll their children may Register Online. To contact members and volunteers at The High Road on Dawson to become involved with this local project, please call 512-442-8535. 

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