Cedar Rapids is on a mission. In 2015, a collaboration of community agencies and organizations came together to commit to addressing essential literacy rates in school-aged children. Nonprofits are working with schools to ensure students can meet critical third-grade reading benchmarks. So far, results are promising.
To contribute to this community-wide effort, the Cedar Rapids Public Library Foundation has undertaken a program aimed at increasing kindergarten readiness and getting age-appropriate books into children’s homes. “We’re working with the Dollywood Foundation and have become an affiliate of Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library,” explains Foundation Director, Charity Tyler. “The program allows us to bring free age-appropriate books to children ages 0-5 in Cedar Rapids.”
Children can enroll at any time, and the program will mail one book per month to a child’s home. The Library Foundation covers the cost of the book and the mailing through a partnership with the Dollywood Foundation. “It’s free for families in Cedar Rapids to participate, regardless of income,” explains Charity.
There are two ways to enroll in the program. One is a registration card families physically complete and return to the library. The other is an online entry portal. Once a child is enrolled, the Library Foundation verifies the child’s information. At the end of every month, information is sent to the Dollywood Foundation, and they take care of the rest.
The Cedar Rapids Public Library Foundation is excited about the impact the program could have in our community.
“This is one of those programs that has proven to show results around the world,” explains Charity. “The programs in other communities have seen families reading more to their children. Children who participate in Imagination Library outscore their non-Imagination Library peers in reading scores in first and third grades.”
In addition to placing age-appropriate books in homes, Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library includes many books with a caregiver conversation guide. These guides provide parents with insight as to what to do with their child before, during and after they read the book. They also provide examples of activities that focus on vocabulary and reading comprehension.
Charity sees an economic impact in all of this, explaining, “Research shows that children who grow up with books in the home achieve, on average, three more years of education than those who don’t. Think of the impact that would have on our local economy. These children are our future workforce. These are our future elected officials. These are our future business owners. These are our future leaders who we are educating. Giving them every advantage we can is good for us and good for our community.”
Currently, the Library Foundation is enrolling children and raising funds to support the project.
Their goal is to enroll 80% of eligible children, or about 7,300 children, in the next three to four years. The average cost is $25 per child per year. Because Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library does not charge book recipients, the Cedar Rapids Public Library Foundation is working to raise those funds. Both the Greater Cedar Rapids Community Foundation’s Program Fund and Community Investment Fund have supported the project.
“It’s giving the gift of literacy to children in our community,” says Charity. “It’s simple, but it’s big.”