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 117,920,187 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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Crystal Works is still sparkling magic and alchemy in Austin

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Pendant of the Ancient Egyptian goddess, Isis, found at Crystal Works in Austin, Texas. Photography: Nicolette Mallow.

A local gemstone within the city of Austin, Crystal Works is a distinct boutique filled with many treasures and ancient folklore from around the world. Stock full of Swarovski crystal prisms, gemstones, aromatherapy oils, pendants, sage, books and artwork: Crystal Works is a place of alchemy, magic, spirituality and healing. From the outside, before even setting foot inside, guests notice and admire lots of individual crystals on display; dangling from the tops of the windowsill in many different shapes and sizes. Adjacent to the crystals, also levitating inside the window are authentic dream catchers with feathers and rainbow maker mobiles. The term ‘rainbow maker’ is quite literal, meaning these special crystals radiate light the colors of the rainbow. Twirling gently and elegantly with the airflow, these crystals allure and tantalize the eyes by emitting rays of rainbow-colored light beams. Color and light are key elements at Crystal Works.

Upon entrance, the moment guests do cross the doorway; all the energy in the atmosphere transforms and everything becomes particularly peaceful and calm, like standing in a meditation room. Serene music plays in the background. And amidst the serene music, echoes from rock waterfalls can be heard as the water flows about in their stone pools. Tiny bells can be heard jingling softly, too, from dream catchers, charms and spirit bells.

There is no other shop in Austin quite like it, and even the air smells differently within this local alchemist haven. According to the founder and owner, Cathleen Day, “The wonderful smell of Crystal Works comes from our many organic scents. There are no chemicals or artificially scented products. The gemstone fossils and crystals are from all over the world and their colors wash over the eye, causing a delightful endorphin cascade. The ancient folklore ascribed to the stones is intriguing and connect us with beliefs and cultures thousands of years old.”

Alongside many of the gemstones, geodes and minerals are note cards to inform guests as to what each piece represents and the healing powers they’re said to possess. The ancient folklore behind all these stones is quite interesting and there are many books that entail clearer insight into each one. For instance, black onyx gemstones are thought to provide protection. Bloodstones are believed to attract peace, healing and compassion. Tiger’s eye is a warrior stone that brings balance, whereas Rose Quartz is a stone of unconditional love.

Crystal Works is completely filled to the brim with beautiful merchandise. Whether it’s looming from the ceiling, pinned to the wall or resting on the floor, there is no space left empty. It takes several visits to regard and absorb everything Crystal Works has to offer. Some of the more expensive items are locked away in glass cases. However, most of the items can be seen and touched. On the counter tops surrounding the register is unique, one-of-a-kind jewelry made from gems and minerals, separated by colors and stones: Red, blue, violet, green and onyx. Various kinds of cards can be found, too. Educational, scientific and holistic books are stacked in the corner. Additionally there are little Buddha shrines and mirrors scattered about the shop.

For nearly 40 years Crystal Works has been in operation. The store came to be in 1977 when Cathleen Day was “admiring the rainbows from a friends’ sparkling prism and it was decided right then she wanted to begin selling them”. Since then, the shop has flourished from only selling Swarovski crystal prisms to the extensive inventory that it’s become today.

Located on the corner of 12th and Lamar near Enfield, Crystal Works is open seven days a week. Please refer to the website or Yelp for hours of operation. For more information, please call 512-472-5597 or www.crystalworksaustin.com.

Note: This article was originally published on Examiner.com in September 2015

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