The tiny, sweet faces were excited for the extra attention from adults and “Llama Llama Red Pajama.” Unbeknownst to them, another reason to celebrate was behind the impromptu reading time.
Amazon recently donated $25,000 to the Governor’s Books from Birth Foundation and consequently $6,250 to Bradley County’s Imagination Library program.
According to Dean Hoskins, GBBF vice president, the total donation was distributed between the four Tennessee counties with Amazon fulfillment centers. The four counties to receive a portion of the grant were Bradley, Hamilton, Rutherford and Wilson. The money will be used to help support each county’s local Imagination Library program.
Hoskins gave a brief history of the program.
“The Dolly Parton Imagination Library started by Dolly Parton in the ’90s provides high-quality, age-appropriate books to any child in Tennessee from the ages of birth to 5 years old,” Hoskins said. “It is free of charge. There is no cost to the family regardless of economic level.”
Tennessee is the only state to have an IL program in every county. The programs currently service a collective 213,000 children.
According to Hoskins, former Gov. Phil Bredesen originally supported Dolly Parton’s program. Gov. Bill Haslam has now continued his support. A state appropriation comes out of Haslam’s budget each year to finance half of each county’s IL programs.
Hoskins explained the necessity for the program in Tennessee.
“Reading is vital to children learning, graduating from high school and becoming productive citizens,” Hoskins said. “You learn to read until the third grade and then in the third grade you read to learn. Currently in Tennessee, only 46 percent of our third-graders read on grade level.”
Continued Hoskins, “We need to get books into their homes at the earliest possible moment. Reading increases children’s vocabulary exponentially and prepares them to enter kindergarten.”
Scott Campbell, Outbound Senior Operations Manager at the Charleston Amazon Fulfillment Center, agreed with Hoskins.
“I think most of us can agree reading is a fundamental development of a child’s growth,” Campbell said. “We find it vitally important to support programs that help children get books.”
He pointed out the first item Amazon ever sold was a book.
“Today, is a good example of the power of reading to children. When I asked who loves to read, everybody’s hands went up,” Campbell recalled. “When I asked who likes this story, everyone’s hands went up. They were engrossed in the story. I think it is just really powerful to reach them at such a young age.”
Hoskins said having books in the home is extremely important for youngsters’ development.
Jaynese Waddell, United Way of Bradley County community impact associate, agreed with Hoskins saying parents are the first teachers a child will have. She said she encourages parents to read to their children, and in doing so, enrich their lives.
A variety of avenues are used to encourage parents to enroll their children in the free program.
“Beginning this month, there is a new project beginning through the Department of Health called the Welcome Baby project,” Hoskins said. “Every child born in the state of Tennessee will receive a letter from the governor and first lady welcoming the newest citizen of Tennessee and instructing them about a new resource available online, kidcentraltn.org, and providing them with an Imagination Library enrollment brochure.”
Waddell said a similar avenue is used for new parents at SkyRidge Medical Center.
Enrollment in the free program allows children ages birth to 5 to receive a monthly book through the mail. Waddell and Hoskins agreed receiving a monthly personal package is a great incentive to interest children in reading. The grant provided by Amazon helps local IL programs, like the one in Bradley County, provide the money for their half of the bill.
Hoskins highlighted the impact of partnership.
“What I would say is partnerships, such as with Amazon, are critical to the success of this program. Although GBBF pays half of the cost for each program, the local community has to raise the other half,” Hoskins explained. “That amounts to $12 per child/per year, which doesn’t sound like much, but when you have three or 4,000 in the county, that is a nice-sized bill.”
Continued Hoskins, “It is important we engage the community for awareness, for financial support and the importance of reading to children and engaging them at a young age, or else we will not have a viable workforce for companies such as Amazon that we are trying to attract to the state.”
Waddell thanked Stepping Stones for allowing the use of its facilities for the event.
Campbell reminded Amazon is invested in the local community.
“If we have the opportunity at Amazon to impact children at such a young age, we want to be a part of that opportunity,” Campbell said.
More information can be found about the local IL program by contacting Bradley County’s United Way office at 423-479-2020.