COLUMBIA — Parents of Columbia newborns will soon be leaving area hospitals with a free book for their child.
A new literacy program will provide children born in 2008 with a hardbound book each month until they are 5 years old, United Way representatives announced at a press conference at the Columbia Public Library today.
The United Way Women’s Initiative and the Columbia Public Library have partnered to bring the Dolly Parton Imagination Library program, which provides children from the community with Penguin books, to Columbia. A book will be given to new mothers and babies at Boone Hospital Center and Columbia Regional Hospital with a registration card so that children can receive more of the books in the mail.
The program is planned to start in May with “The Little Engine that Could,” but all babies born with a Columbia address in 2008 are eligible for the free program. Parents can call the library to register.
The idea to bring the program to Columbia is the brainchild of Karen Taylor, president of the board for United Way. Two years ago Taylor learned of the Dolly Parton Imagination Library program at a United Way conference in Denver.
“It intrigued me because it was such a great program,” Taylor said. “I asked myself, ‘Why can’t we do this in Columbia and provide books to children under the age of 5?’”
Taylor said one of the benefits of providing books through this program is its affordability for communities. It’s affordable because the Dolly Parton Imagination Library takes care of many details. Early development professionals working for the program select age-appropriate books that are mailed to children’s homes directly from the warehouse. The estimated cost to program sponsors is $30 a year per child.
“If they start when they are born, they should have a set of 60 of their own books,” Taylor said.
The Columbia Public Library will take care of database management, she said. The Parents As Teachers organization, a group that works through Columbia Public Schools to provide services to new parents, has agreed to ask if families are registered during their home visits in order to get more families to sign up.
The United Way will fund most of the program, and the Friends of the Columbia Public Library allocated $5,000 of its $70,000 donation this year to help cover the costs of the first book.
Taylor said her goal is to “simply put books in the hands of children and perhaps have an impact in the learning and development of these children.”
Taylor said she hopes, in the future, to provide books to all children under the age of 5 in Boone County.
Melissa Carr, director of the Daniel Boone Regional Library, said at the press conference that she hopes the program will have a lasting effect on the community.
“Reading to a child at an early age is so important for their readiness to read and readiness to go to school,” Carr said.