09/01/2020- A nationwide program promoting early literacy among children is facing major funding cuts at the local level in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library provides children from birth though age 4 with a free book monthly sent straight to their mailbox to encourage reading in the home. The program was made available to Marinette County kids through the Healthy Youth Coalition, coined a “Local Champion”, who works to enroll kids and secure funding to cover a portion of the cost of the books and shipping fees. Karianne Lesperance is the Executive Director of the HYC and says the local United Way graciously stepped up at as a major funding source when the program first launched, but has since had to pull back from that commitment because of the coronavirus and related economic impacts.

The introduction of the Imagination Library here was met with an overwhelming response from the community, with over 600 Marinette County kids being enrolled in the first year alone. Individuals and organizations have reached out to the HYC to offer additional financial support and Lesperance says that has bought them some time to explore alternative funding options.

The Imagination Library costs about $30 per child annually to run. Studies show early literacy efforts are linked to better academic success and lower substance abuse disorder rates later in life.