Access to books has just become easier for young children in the Altona area, thanks to a group of dedicated people who have brought Dolly Parton's Imagination Library to the community.
The program gives children the opportunity to receive a free book; personally addressed to them, every month until they’re 5 years old.
"I had heard about the program from other communities being able to access it and I thought it was fantastic," explained Nicole Friesen. "The benefits that it has to children in those communities is incredible, so I really wanted to bring it to Altona."
Since 2014, parents in the Winkler and Garden Valley School Division have been able to sign their children up for the free program. As of December 2021, 62,761 books had been gifted to young readers within the district since the first ones were sent out in January 2015.
According to Friesen, research suggests the earlier children start looking at books, the better their chances are of learning to read when they enter school.
"I love sitting down and reading with my children and see the benefits of that. My children are also under five and seeing those benefits before they go into kindergarten is incredible, so I thought the rest of the community could really benefit from it," she added.
Because children under five typically can't read an entire storybook, Friesen says the program also provides for some family moments.
"As a busy, working parent, when a child receives this book, it almost forces you to sit down and read it with them. They are so excited to receive it and they want that time to connect."
Dolly was inspired by her father’s inability to read and write and started the Imagination Library in 1995 to serve the children of her hometown in Tennessee. In November 2006, Dolly announced that she would be expanding her Imagination Library into Canada. As of July 2023, her program has gifted over 200 million free, high -quality, age-appropriate books globally. “I know there are children in communities around the world with big dreams and the seeds of these dreams are often found in books,” said Dolly.
Dolly Parton’s organization covers a portion of the costs, and the remaining $47/child per year is either fundraised or sponsored by local businesses within the community. Elmers Manufacturing has generously sponsored all children in the Altona area under the age of five for this year.
In a news release, Mike Friesen, President and CEO of Elmers Manufacturing, said “supporting this cause is an investment in a brighter future, where every child has the opportunity to imagine, learn, and succeed. Promoting literacy not only from a young age enhances cognitive development and instills a love for reading that lasts a lifetime.”
Signing up your children is quite simple. Go to the Imagination Library website, www.imaginationlibrary.com or, if you prefer, you can send an email to ImaginationLibraryAltona@outlook.com and you will receive a PDF form that you can mail in. You can also visit the group's Facebook and Instagram social media sites. The current sponsored area includes the following postal codes, R0G 0B0, R0G 0B1, R0G 0B2, R0G 0B3, R0G 0V0, and R0G 1X0. If you have multiple children under the age of five, Friesen encourages you to sign each one up separately, explaining they will receive different books each month that are age appropriate.
If a child is signed up at birth, Friesen says they’ll receive up to 60 different books by the time they graduate the program, creating their own personal library. That personal touch, noted Friesen, is also what makes the Imagination Library so special.
"All of these books have a little card on the back that is addressed to that child specifically, so that child knows that this book is for them," she explained. "A lot of children might not necessarily get personalized gifts, and receiving something that's directly addressed to you in the mail is very special."
As of Thursday morning, 24 hours after the Altona program was launched, 120 children had already been signed up.
In response to Canada's Online News Act and Meta (Facebook and Instagram) removing access to local news from their platforms, PembinaValleyOnline encourages you to get your news directly from your trusted source by bookmarking this page and downloading the PembinaValleyOnline app.