Stark Library helping to give lifetime of opportunity

Patricia Faulhaber
Suburbanite correspondent

CANTON  Early literacy is one of Stark Library’s core missions. The library believes that building a solid foundation today will build a better community tomorrow.

Imagination Library

That is one reason CEO and Executive Director Mary Ellen Icaza gave for why Stark Library is entering a second year as part of Dolly Parton's Imagination Library. Through the program, kids in Stark County can receive a free book every month until they’re five years old – each child could receive up to 60 books for their personal library if their parents start them in the program before the age of one.

“This program really connects to our library’s deep commitment to literacy especially early literacy and getting kids ready to read in school,” Icaza said. “Dolly Parton’s father couldn’t read and that is why she started the Imagination Library program. The program speaks loudly to me.”

This program is brought to the children of Stark County through a partnership between Stark Library, United Way of Greater Stark County, and other area libraries.

“Children who grow up with books are inspired to dream more, do more, and be more, and we want to encourage that,” said Icaza. “The Imagination Library not only builds a child’s home library; it also fosters a love of reading and learning, which sets them up for lifelong success.”

Dolly Parton is a champion of childhood literacy. She was inspired to begin Imagination Library due to her own father’s inability to read and write. Her goal was to foster a love of reading among preschool children and their families. The program began in her home county and has grown to include participating communities around the world. So far, it has gifted more than 148 million books worldwide and more than 50,000 in Stark County.

The program is provided at no charge to families, but it is funded through donations and partnerships. Ohio First Lady Fran DeWine became a huge supporter of the Imagination Library when she saw the impact it had in her own family. To ensure every child in Ohio had the same opportunity to participate, she established the Ohio Governor’s Imagination Library, which helps offset the cost of the program for local affiliates.

“Ohio’s First Lady DeWine had a vision that all 88 counties in Ohio would be involved in this program and this past fall, she reached that goal,” Icaza said. “Being able to read affects school and career choices and a person’s success. The program is important because of how we can connect with families and young children. It has really taken off for us with a 30 percent registration of eligible kids in the area. The books are shipped at no charge directly to the child’s home. It’s fun for the kids to receive their own package and then it’s fun for them to get their own book.”

Stark Library is joining Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library affiliates around the world to raise funds for the program. Icaza said the library is fundraising for this project and writing grants to cover the local costs.

It doesn’t take much to set a child up for success – including the match from the Ohio Governor’s Imagination Library, just $62.50 funds one child fully for the five-year program.

To learn more, to sign up, or to support the program, visit StarkLibrary.org/Imagination-Library.