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Imagination Library serving local kids

File Photo A children’s librarian reads to children and their parents during Toddler Time at the Washington County Public Library main branch.

A local book program is serving 875 children, thanks to the Marietta Community Foundation, Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library Program and donors.

Another 35 kids are on a waiting list for the Imagination Library that sends reading material of the appropriate level to children through the mail. For $25 a year, a child age 0-5 can receive a book each month. As the child grows, the books get more advanced and when they graduate from the program, they will have a library of 60 books.

Total cost is $125.

Heather Allender, president and CEO of the community foundation, said the program services all of Washington County and impacts many different areas of a child’s life.

“The most obvious is kindergarten readiness as these kids are getting ready to start school. This is going to give them a heads up on reading skills,” Allender said. “But then there are also so many studies out there showing how literacy ties to success. If we start young, hopefully that skill just continues to build as they grow up.”

According to Mason Beuhring, communications and program services director at the foundation, children read to on a regular basis prior to kindergarten are exposed to 1 million more words than children who are not.

“This program gives parents, families and children the ability to bridge that gap developmentally and have a little bit more of an extensive vocabulary before they reach grade school,” Beuhring said. “Even just having access to print showed a great increase in developmental milestones despite socio-economic status or background.”

The Marietta Community Foundation initially hosted the Imagination Libary in 2017, but only a few children apply. In 2019, the foundtion increased its efforts for registration and the state of Ohio also matched the foundation’s half of the cost.

“Just in two years, we learned so much more about the program. With the state matching funds, it really gave us the opportunity to expand this,” Allender said. “Every child should have access to a book, and we want every child to be on the same level when entering our school systems.”

In 2019, the foundation started a matching campaign, and several donors came forward to help with the Imagination Library, including the Friends of the Library, Marietta Morning Rotary Club, Kiwanis, Peoples Bank Foundation Grant and the Bernard McDonough Foundation.

“We’re trying to build sustainability, and so that’s what we’re working on as a foundation,” Allender said. “We need the shorter term donations to get those kids off the waiting list.”

Ohio was the third state to fully adopt the Imagination Library and Washington County had success with the program even during COVID-19.

“We had the largest growth in all of Ohio. We saw a growth of 18% when other counties saw 5%,” Beuhring said.

Allender’s hope is the Imagination Library not only increases literacy among children, but it also creates family time.

“When the new book comes, hopefully first it’s exciting for the kid to receive mail. But then it’s a fun opportunity to read the book with family,” Allender said.

“And we hope that the parents can use that as an opportunity to read with the child.”

Although the world is full of disagreements, Beuhring said everyone approves of the work the Imagination Library does.

“It is a pretty unified front that it is important to get children educational material into their hands, and I can’t think of a more efficient way to do it than this program,” Beuhring said.

Kyle Nichols can be reached at knichols@mariettatimes.com.

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