100,000 books ... and counting

J. H. Osborne • Apr 11, 2007 at 11:48 AM

It starts with a train that thinks it can. It ends five years later with a look toward kindergarten.

And each month in between, it delivers adventure, entertainment and lots of new words to learn - right to the mailboxes of thousands of children in Sullivan County.

It is membership in the Sullivan County Imagination Library. And it's free from birth to their fifth birthday for every child who lives in the county.

An affiliate of the national program founded by Dolly Parton's Dollywood Foundation, Sullivan County's Imagination Library began distributing books to county children about 2½ years ago.

On Wednesday, a celebration was held to mark delivery of the 100,000th book from the program.

The Sullivan County Imagination Library is a partnership between the Kingsport Area Chamber of Commerce, the Bristol TN/VA Chamber of Commerce, the Governor's Books from Birth Foundation, the Dollywood Foundation and the Sullivan County Commission.

The Governor's Books from Birth Foundation provides matching funds for the monthly book orders to all 95 counties in Tennessee.

The local Imagination Library Council is responsible for asking the community to provide the remainder of funds needed for the program.

To date, books have been delivered to 6,488 Sullivan County children, and 1,725 children have graduated on their fifth birthday and no longer receive books.

The monthly hardcover books are available to any child from birth until age 5 at no cost to the parent. Books are chosen by experts to be age appropriate. And sometimes the titles offered for a particular year are switched out to provide some variety.

The first book, however, is always "The Little Engine That Could," which - like all books during a child's enrollment in the program - comes addressed to the child. Council members say getting mail in their own name is an added treat for children, and it makes the monthly package all the more special. The first book comes with a little something extra: a welcome note from Parton.

The final book sent to each child is "Look Out Kindergarten, Here I Come" and it includes a note of congratulations from Parton.

To register a child, parents can visit www.imaginationlibrary.com or go to any public library in Sullivan County to obtain a brochure.

The Sullivan County Imagination Library got started with two anonymous donations of $25,000 each - but council members say each and every donation, no matter how much, is as appreciated and put to as good of use as any other. This year's budget is about $74,000 - and the largest number of donations are in the $1 to $99 range.

According to a Web site for the Governor's Books from Birth Foundation, just $27 per child per year brings the Imagination Library to the children of any of Tennessee's 95 counties.

The Governor's Books from Birth Foundation's dollar-for-dollar match grant program splits the cost with each county organization, so county sponsoring organizations need only raise $13.50.

Donations may be sent to: Sullivan County Imagination Library Kingsport Chamber Foundation; P.O. Box 1403; Kingsport, TN 37662.

Imagination Library programs are also available to children in other Tennessee counties, including Hawkins and Washington.

The Hawkins County Imagination Library's primary sponsor is the Hawkins County Library, and registration information is available by calling 921-7456.

The Washington County Imagination Library's primary sponsor is the Johnson City Chamber of Commerce, and registration information is available by calling 461-8000.

For information about programs in other Tennessee counties call 1-866-368-6371 or visit www.governorsfoundation.org.

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