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Archives Grant, schools deliver books to kids

Sept. 22, 2021

By Darcy Fargo

OGDENSBURG – While one of Dolly Parton’s most famous tunes focuses on “9 to 5,” The Healthy Families for a Hopeful Future (HFHF) program in diocesan Catholic schools is partnering with the singer’s foundation to focus on providing reading materials to children from birth to age 5.

Through HFHF, Diocese of Ogdensburg Catholic schools are offering subscriptions to the Dolly Parton Imagination Library, which “is dedicated to inspiring a love of reading by gifting books free of charge to children from birth to age five, through funding shared by Dolly Parton and local community partners.”

Program participation was proposed by diocesan Assistant Superintendent of Schools Karen Donahue, and the program is administered by family support coordinators of the Healthy Families for a Hopeful Future program located in each diocesan school.

“Through the generous support of the Mother Cabrini Health Foundation, we are able to offer this program to children aged birth to 5 years residing near one of our schools,” said Donahue. “Our goal is to build family-based literacy experiences that help young children develop a love for reading and prepare them for kindergarten. As we have come to understand these early experiences build a strong foundation for early elementary school education. We support and encourage parents to sign up their children and to foster the age-old tradition of reading together at home. The books offered are grouped by chronological age, so each year offers unique books to their readers. Books are chosen by an independent committee that includes renowned children’s authors, writers and experts in the field of child development. Strict guidelines ensure books are age appropriate, wholesome, and contain positive messages. All children receive The Little Engine That Could as their first book, along with a letter from Dolly Parton. After that, they receive one book a month until their fifth birthday. They receive a special final book and a letter from Dolly Parton congratulating them on becoming readers and encouraging them to continue to explore the world of books.”

The HFHF program will also offer community programs for parents/guardians/grandparents and their young children focusing on readiness and reading. We are consulting with Pre-K teachers and local librarians and hope to partner with them.

“We’ll be reaching out to families in our communities – not just our school families – to get kids from birth to aged 5 signed up for the program,” said Michele Lallier, Coordinator of the diocesan Dolly Parton Imagination Library initiative. “After they sign up, children will receive an age-appropriate book every month until they turn 5. So, if a child is signed up at age 3, he or she will receive a book every month until age 5.”

Books are sent directly to the child’s residence. Families with more than one child under age 5 can receive one book each month for each child.

“There are designated books for each age group,” Lallier said. “If a family had twins registered, they’d receive the same book every month, because it’s based on age. If a family had kids at different ages, they’d get different books.”

Family support coordinators are reaching out to families in their communities in a variety of ways, Lallier said.

“Some have events planned at their schools, and they’ll be reaching out to families during those events,” she said. “Some are putting brochures in doctor’s offices or partnering with local libraries that have preschool groups. Some are partnering with hospitals to provide brochures in the gift bags they send home with new babies. Some are reaching out through local head start programs.”

All families are invited to participate regardless of income.

“I have a teaching background, and my master’s degree is in reading and language arts. In my family, we’ve seen it in our own children and grandchildren; being introduced to books as infants made them more verbal and does so much for brain development,” said Lallier. “Many children don’t have books in their homes, and they may not be introduced to books until they’re in school. This is a great program! It brings books into homes. We’re really excited to participate, and we’re grateful we’ve had grants to help provide these opportunities.”

The response to the program has been enthusiastic thus far.

“We’re just starting, and we already have more than 60 children registered,” Lallier said.

As the partnering agency, the Diocese of Ogdensburg will cover the cost of shipping the books to participating families.

“The Dolly Parton Foundation assumes the cost of book purchased,” Donahue explained. “They also handle shipping and handling expenses. Initial funding for this local program is provided by the Healthy Families for a Hopeful Future program grant from the Mother Cabrini Health Foundation. We welcome donations from local groups and individuals to purchase subscriptions for children aged birth to 5 years old. We hope local organizations and church groups will be willing to donate to this effort, as there are many children aged birth to 5 years old living in the diocese. We have the potential to impact their lives in such a positive way.”

To register a child to receive books through the program, contact your local diocesan Catholic school and ask for the family support coordinator.

Learn more about the Dolly Parton Imagination Library at imaginationlibrary.com.



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