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Closing the Book on Illiteracy – SNEAK PEEK

Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library literacy program is now up and running in Isle of Wight County.
Photo by Gregg MacDonald

Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library comes to Isle of Wight

March 2023

Claire Childs, winner of the Isle of Wight Dolly Parton Look-a-Like Contest, poses next to her idol. Photo by Gregg MacDonald

by Gregg MacDonald, Executive Editor

Smithfield Foods, in conjunction with the DeGood Foundation and other state and local partners, has brought singer-songwriter and philanthropist Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library to the county, home to many Community Electric Cooperative members.

Inspired by her father’s inability to read and write, Parton started her Imagination Library in 1995 for children within her home county in Tennessee. Today, her program spans five countries and gifts over 2 million free books each month to children around the world through funding shared by Parton and local community partners. Children who are registered with the program receive a free brand-new, age-appropriate book in the mail every single month from the time they’re born until they start kindergarten at age five.

“I have personally been a fan of this program for a long time,” says Jonathan Toms, senior community development manager for Smithfield Foods. “It’s wonderful that we can now bring this great resource here, locally. It takes a village and even a county to make this possible.”

Kyle DeGood, who founded the nonprofit DeGood Foundation in 2017 to address children’s literacy and other local childcare issues within the Hampton Roads region of Virginia, says the Isle of Wight extension of Parton’s Imagination Library is one of his foundation’s biggest achievements to date. “This has been our most successful regional launch in Virginia,” says DeGood, who has aided in launching three additional Imagination Libraries in Newport News, Hampton and York. “Our research shows that nearly a quarter of children in lower-income homes are not kindergarten-ready in terms of literacy once they reach kindergarten age. This program is going to make a huge impact on this community.”

Beth Butner, of the Isle of Wight Christian Outreach Program, who is very familiar with Cooperative Living Magazine, says she is excited to see the Imagination Library program being implemented in her community. “One of the greatest gifts an adult can give a child is to read a book to them every day,” she says.

Steve Bowman, the mayor of Smithfield, agrees that the Imagination Library program is a great thing for children and their parents alike. “This is a great thing,” he says.  “When you have an educational program for kids, that’s a benefit for everyone in the county.”