At least 300 children in Faulkner County will get a book every month for the next few years through Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library.

Arkansas first lady Ginger Beebe helped announce Thursday that Imagination Library was coming to Faulkner County. The announcement was made at the Rotary Club of Conway meeting.

"Literacy is really the foundation of education," Beebe said. "Helping that child to develop that love of reading and writing is critical to helping that child reach their full potential."

Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library delivers a book to children every month through their fifth birthday at no cost to the family. If a child was enrolled at birth, he or she would have a library of 60 books by his or her fifth birthday.

Parton started the program in her hometown in Tennessee, but it has since spread across the globe. Currently 703,570 children are registered according to the program’s website and, since it started in 1996, 56 million books have been mailed out to children.

"This program is here to stay and it’s making a difference," said Imagination Library Regional Director Pam Hunsaker.

There is a cost of the program, but that cost is taken care of by local Imagination Library Affiliates. The cost is $25 per child per year, which covers the books themselves and shipping. It averages out to $2.08 per book, none of which goes to Dolly Parton, the staff of the organization or other expenses. Parton, Hunsaker said, picks up the rest.

Arkansas Preschool Plus — formerly known as Lifelong Learners — will be serving as Faulkner County’s Imagination Library Affiliate. Arkansas Preschool Plus has already secured funds to support 300 children for two years with the program with the help of Conway Corporation, Faulkner County Community Foundation and State Senator Jason Rapert, Arkansas Preschool Plus Founder and Executive Director Charlotte Green said.

She also noted that the Conway Area Chamber of Commerce and Conway Public Schools have already provided the infrastructure to make this and projects like it possible.

Additionally, at the meeting, Rotary President Roger Lewis announced the Rotary Club will pay for a new child every week for a year.

Mary Anne Williams, retired Arkansas teacher, was instrumental in fostering the Imagination Library in Arkansas. In 2004, one county had an Imagination Library Affiliate, and now there are 28 affiliates across the state covering 42 counties.

"As a teacher it makes a very big difference," Williams said. "It’s not going to teach them to read, but it’s going to encourage their families to be involved from birth."

Eight years ago in Des Arc, Ark. where Williams lives, more than half of the children in kindergarten were found to be "not developed" in the readiness screening. Imagination Library became available that year, and in 2012 and 2013, none of the children entering kindergarten were considered "not developed."

Green and Michelle Ford, Conway Program Director for Arkansas Preschool Plus, said they have the money in the bank for those 300 children for two years, and they are hopeful more funds will come in to continue the program in Faulkner County.

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