NEW ALBANY — A program dedicated to providing children with free books was awarded $50,000 of U.S. bailout funds by the New Albany Redevelopment Commission on Tuesday.
Next year, half a million books will be delivered to children in Floyd County since the local launch of Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library program in 2009.
The Floyd County branch of the international program is owned and operated by the New Albany-Floyd County Education Foundation.
Free books are delivered monthly to children enrolled in the program, from birth to 5 years old.
About 80% to 85% of eligible county children receive these free books, according to Tyler Bliss, executive director of the education foundation. This equates to an average of 3,400 children entering the program each year.
The $50,000 grant awarded to the program will be used only to cover the cost of the books.
Bliss said for a child to get books for the whole year, it costs $30. Imagination Library program director Becky King said they spend about $85,000 to $90,000 each year on the program.
The goal of the program is to introduce children to books at an early stage, help them build their own library, and encourage parent-child reading.
“Our goal as the New Albany-Floyd County Education Foundation is to make sure our children come to our schools ready to learn, and we know that the sooner we can introduce books and the love of reading, the better off they will be. in their K-12 career and education,” Bliss said.
Elaine Murphy, who serves on the commission as a nonvoting member and is president of the New Albany-Floyd County School Board, shared a similar sentiment.
“As a former educator, children who came from homes that had multiple books were better prepared to learn to read, had better language skills,” Murphy said. “If you have books at home, you read them. If you don’t have books at home, you can’t read.
This program is a surefire way to ensure that all children, regardless of background, have access to books, Bliss said.
“Anyway, all children are covered by this program,” he said. “We’re really proud to provide them to everyone.”
The program partners with Baptist Health Floyd to encourage parents to enroll their newborns in the program, according to Bliss.
King also noted that they partner with Head Start, preschools, libraries and elementary schools to meet parents in person and enroll children in the program.
The books are chosen by a panel of experts and range from classics to newer books, Bliss said. As children get older, the books change to stay age-appropriate.
“There’s a whole range of different subjects, characters and stories, but very, very high quality books. A lot of them are hardcover, paperback,” he said.
Bliss also said the panel seeks to ensure that the books chosen are written by a variety of authors.
He said some books include English and Spanish in order to have representation for children learning English as a second language.
“We have English-speaking children as a second language in our community, so we want to make sure that we also give them the opportunity to find things to enjoy,” Bliss said.
In order to enrich children’s reading experience, King said there is a guide inside the book for parents. The guide gives parents suggestions on things they can do with their children before, during and after reading the book together.
Part of a larger program, King said they were just responsible for the cost of the books and delivery, but didn’t have to ship the books. Working with the national program also means they get a discount on books.
Before the foundation became part of the Imagination Library program, King did something similar with Community Alliances to Promote Education, ensuring Head Start children received books several times a year.
“Then I learned what Dolly Parton was doing and what the possibilities were for all the kids in our county,” she said.
King said they rely on donations and partnerships in the community to fund the program.