By Emily Banks Wooten
A milestone for the Rotary Club of Livingston and the children of Polk County was reached Thursday when Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library presented the 100,000th book to a child in Polk County during the regular meeting of the Rotary Club.
Providing a brief history and timeline, Rotarian Ray Gearing explained that he became aware of Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library and after looking into it, wanted to provide it for the children of Polk County. Gearing said he approached then-Rotary President Ron Boyce about it and Boyce agreed to make it the club project that year.
But the program soon became too big for Rotary and evolved into R.E.A.D. Inc. (Reading Encourages Advanced Development), which is the Polk County sponsor of Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library. R.E.A.D. provides monthly free books mailed to children from birth to five years old. Studies show that children in the R.E.A.D. program enter kindergarten well ahead of children who are not enrolled. It is for all children and is not based on need. To register your child, go to www.readpolkcounty.com. Children must be residents of Polk County.
“It helps kids because some of these children aren’t exposed to literature in their home,” R.E.A.D. Board Member Odie Grube said. The program is free for the family and each month the book arrives in the mailbox addressed to the child.
The local program started in 2012 with 4 children in Polk County and there are now 1300 students in Polk County receiving books each month. Children are eligible for the program from birth to five years old. In other words, if you sign up a child at birth, by the time the child graduates the program at age five, they will have received a total of 60 books.
Judy Blain, president of R.E.A.D., presented the 100,000th book to Colt Alvarado who turns five in a few months.
“I’m really excited to share this moment with y’all because this is where it all began. We gave out about 1,250 books last year and that was a big deal, but this year we’ve given out 1,342 books, our new normal,” Blain said.
“Tell your neighbors. We depend on other people. We have graduated 2,300 kids. The kids we started with are in high school now and they are impacting the literacy rate,” Blain said.
George Huson, R.E.A.D. treasurer, reported that R.E.A.D. is a difficult program to maintain and reported that two grants have been received – one from Roy O Martin and one from Sam Houston Electric Cooperative. It costs about $2,800 a month to send all the books, he said. Breaking it down more specifically, Huson said $26 sends a book monthly for one year for one child and that $130 provides a five-year scholarship for one child.
Two Rotarians, Andrew Boyce and Kole Puckett, have children participating in the program. Boyce, a father of two, has one son, Carson, that has graduated from the program and a three-and-a-half-year-old who is currently participating. Carson addressed the club, thanking them, and telling them how much he enjoys reading his books. Although Puckett’s daughter, Kenna, was unable to attend due to a conflicting birthday party, he did share a video of her taken the previous evening in which she, too, said thank you and told how much she enjoys her books. Having recently turned five, she just graduated from the program. However, she has one-year-old twin siblings who are part of the program now.
To learn more about R.E.A.D. Polk County, visit www.readpolkcounty.com. Online donations may be made on the website and tax-deductible donations may be mailed to R.E.A.D. Polk County at 2810 U.S. Hwy. 190 West, Suite. 100, PMB 167, Livingston, Texas 77351.