HUNTINGTON — Marshall University’s June Harless Center for Rural Educational Research and Development, the West Virginia Department of Education and Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library are collaborating to get books into the homes of children across the state, including those in Cabell County.
The Imagination Library initiative is a program that mails books straight to the child’s home each month, from birth to age 5, at no cost to the families.
“The No. 1 predictor of whether a child is going to be successful is how many books are in that child’s home,” said Stan Maynard, executive director of the June Harless Center. “This will go a long way in ensuring success; literacy won’t be intimidating, and these kids will be comfortable with books.”
Forty-seven counties in the state are participants in the program at some level, according to West Virginia Imagination Library fundraising coordinator Brandie Turner.
“Even though the program is free for families, it costs each community $2.10 each month per child,” Turner said.
Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library covers the cost of the books and processing, but funds for mail services and other expenses must be found elsewhere — that’s where the June Harless Center, grants and local affiliates come in, Turner said.
Prior to the June Harless Center’s entrance, Cabell County’s chapter of the program was funded by a three-year grant through United Way until 2018.
During this time, the program’s direction statewide in the WVDOE was also moved to a different sector. Unable to raise money for the program due to policy restrictions, the department asked the June Harless Center to act as a fundraising arm for the initiative.
“We’d like to someday be able to support every county,” Turner said. “We’re hoping to fundraise and be able to provide 50% of the cost in each county.”
Each county or affiliate would then pay 25% of the cost and a statewide grant would match that to cover the remaining quarter.
As of now, the Imagination Library in Cabell County provides books to 355 children in ZIP codes 25702, 25510 and 25541 in Huntington, Milton and Culloden. These areas were chosen on the basis of need.
Kristin Giles, executive director of elementary schools in Cabell County, said she hopes the district is able to expand to include more areas and eligible children.
“Research shows that if you get books in the hands of kids at a young age, it will increase their vocabulary and their reading achievement,” she said. “Early exposure to literacy also helps close achievement gaps among children.”
The June Harless Center encourages the community to support the initiative by donating $25 for a full year, $75 for three years or $125, which covers the cost from birth to age 5.
A link to donate can be found online at www.marshall.edu/juneharless/imaginationlibrary.