Every month, more than 1,500 families in Madison County receive a free children’s book in the mail, allowing them to experience the joy of reading together. These families are participants in Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library (DPIL), a program that strives to increase childhood literacy skills by providing children from birth through age five with one book per month at no cost to their families.

Children who enter kindergarten unprepared can struggle, lose confidence and fall behind. But reading with these children can play a critical role in providing them with high quality learning experiences, better preparing them for success later on. This is especially critical in rural Madison County, where only about 20 percent of children are enrolled in early childhood programs.

A study led by Le Moyne College faculty members, including Community Foundation Vice President Frank Ridzi, Ph.D., found that those who consistently took part in DPIL were 30 percent more likely to be prepared to enter kindergarten than their non-participating peers.

“Research shows children in this program are going to have more success in school and higher self-esteem,” said Mike Drahos, former executive director of the Literacy Coalition of Madison County. “In the end, these students are going to grow up to be well-educated community citizens who can help address our local poverty problems.”

Thanks to the diligent work of our local literacy coalitions, DPIL is available county-wide in both Madison and Onondaga counties. The Community Foundation supports the program by providing management, research and funding to both coalitions. Several community organizations partner to enroll children. Many also conduct family programs that correlate with the books they are reading.

“There are pockets of great things happening in the 660 square miles of Madison County, and roping them together is the challenge,” Drahos said. “The Community Foundation has provided us the leadership capacity to achieve our goals, serving as a tremendous partner as we move forward.”

Imagination Library is proving to be an invaluable resource in developing literacy skills in our region’s children. Together, our community is helping foster a love of reading that will last a lifetime.