United Way stops funding to local Imagination Library

Thursday, March 20, 2014 | 7:41 p.m. CDT

COLUMBIA — Since 2008, more than 4,600 babies born in Columbia have been given their own personal book collection through the local Dolly Parton's Imagination Library affiliate, sponsored by Heart of Missouri United Way and the Daniel Boone Regional Library.

Each month, the program donates a hardcover book to each registered child until they reach the age of 5.


Donations may be made payable to The Imagination Library and mailed to:

P.O. Box 30825

Columbia, MO 65205

According to the local  Dolly Parton's Imagination Library website, the program aims to improve literacy rates among children in the community. Every enrolled child receives the same books, regardless of family background and income. 

But the local program has stopped taking child registrations after Heart of Missouri United Way made the decision to cut the funding. 

"We desperately need financial help," Karen Taylor, chairwoman of Columbia's Dolly Parton's Imagination Library program, said. "Unless we find other funding, the program will end."

Efforts to reach the Heart of Missouri United Way about the funding decision were unsuccessful.

Taylor has volunteered with United Way since 1987. In 2006, Taylor learned about Dolly Parton's Imagination Library at a United Way conference. She spent two years researching what it would take to start the program in Columbia and launched it in 2008.

The books are free to participating families. Although the Dollywood Foundation covers the cost of purchasing books and shipping them to children's homes, communities are responsible for paying about $25 per child each year, Taylor said, or about $9,000 a month.

Heart of Missouri United Way allocated $150,000 in funding to Dolly Parton's Imagination Library in Columbia in 2013. 

"The Imagination Library Committee is working on securing additional funding to continue the program," said Pam Hunsaker, regional director of the Missouri Dolly Parton's Imagination Library. 

The Imagination Library is exploring grants and mailing previous donors, Taylor said. Columbia's Imagination Library has held fundraisers in the past including a Mother's Day brunch and a Country Music Awards watch party, Hunsaker said.

"At the very least, we'd like for the families that are currently enrolled to continue in the program until the child 'graduates' at age five," Taylor said.

Including Columbia, there are 26 Imagination Library programs operating in Missouri with more than 13,000 children enrolled, Taylor said. According to the national website for Dolly Parton's Imagination Library, over 1600 local communities provide Imagination Libraries to 700,000 children every month.  

"This program allows all children in the community to have access to the same books, teaches the importances of reading and encourages families to read," Taylor said.

Supervising editor is John Schneller.

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