Some 3,000 children in Cork will receive the lifelong gift of the joy of reading, thanks to a book-giving scheme from singer Dolly Parton, writes Ellie O’Byrne
WHILE the country star is best known for hits like ‘Jolene’, ‘9 to 5’ and ‘Islands in the Stream’, ‘The Greatest Gift of All’ , she’s is also the founder of a children’s literacy project.
Dolly Parton’s philanthropic Dollywood Foundation runs an international initiative called Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library, which is set to be launched in Cork for the first time today.
Every child who registers with Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library receives a new book in the post every month from birth up until five years of age, meaning they can accumulate a library of 60 books.
This could mean up to 180,000 books for Cork children in the Northside, Mahon and Carrigtwohill, as well as in two Direct Provision centres at the Kinsale Road and Ashbourne House.
Registration for the scheme begins this week and the first books, chosen by a team of specialists to be suitable for the child’s age from babyhood to five, are set to be sent to participating children in January 2021.
Dolly Parton’s international book-gifting programme was inspired by the star’s impoverished beginnings in rural Tennessee as one of 12 children whose father, Robert Lee Parton Snr, was an illiterate sharecropper.
Over 147 million children’s books have been gifted since the programme’s inception in the mid-nineties. The Cork pilot scheme is the second time Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library will come to Ireland.
Katherine Harford, the programme manager with northside early intervention programme Young Knocknaheeny, whose idea it was to bring Dolly Parton’s book scheme to Cork, said she was “over the moon” to be celebrating the launch.
She said she was inspired to sign Cork communities up to the scheme by the success of Ireland’s other Imagination Library scheme in Tallaght, Co Dublin.
Some 4,980 children are currently enrolled in the programme in the Dublin suburb and 86,911 children’s books have been distributed since last year. Ms Harford said the benefits for children of lifelong access to books couldn’t be overstated.
“I just decided that we had to get this to Cork,” Ms Harford said.
“Young Knocknaheeny promotes books from birth, and tools like singing and rhyming to support language development from the earliest point possible.
“If we have a vision for children from birth that supports their literacy and their language development, it has benefits everywhere in their lives.”
The fact that books are posted direct to the registered children is an element of the Imagination Library that’s particularly nice, she said: “They’re into your home, addressed to you. It’s a personal touch and that’s really important.”
Ms Harford pointed out that, while signing Cork up to the scheme was her idea, an inter-agency team of people had been working nine to five to introduce the scheme to Cork, including Young Knocknaheeny’s Oral Language Development Officer, Grace Walsh.
Parton’s Dollywood Foundation covers overhead costs associated with making the programme available in the community, while local groups raise funds to purchase the books at a discounted price and to have them delivered.
So far, donors for the book purchase for Cork have included Barry’s Tea, The Rotary Club and St Vincent De Paul. An Post is sponsoring the delivery of the books.
While Knocknaheeny has a library service, Ms Harford said the scheme would be particularly welcome in Mahon, which doesn’t have a library, and in Carrigtwohill which has a large number of families with small children.
However, she said she viewed the programme as a pilot and ultimately hoped that it would be introduced into other parts of Cork city and county.
“It’s a small city and I think it’s possible to do this in a bigger way,” Ms Harford said.
“I don’t see why, if we can get the funding, this can’t be extended and become a city or county-wide initiative, but we’d need a lot more support from private businesses.”
A special launch event, with Cork DJ Stevie G as MC, and including video messages of support from Cork celebrities and sporting figures, is being held online due to Covid restrictions.
Ms Harford said the impacts of the various levels of Covid-19 restrictions made this a particularly nice time to be launching a programme laden with positivity.
“To have something this positive going into people’s homes and bringing something new into the home is really good at the moment with Covid,” she said.
The famous ‘Jolene’ singer was not available for comment for this article, but has said in a previously released statement,
“You can never get enough books into the hands of young children. I know there are children in Ireland with their own dreams – the dream of becoming a doctor, an inventor, or a teacher.
“Who knows maybe a writer, or singer. The seeds of these dreams can often be found in books and the seeds planted in a community can grow across the world.”
- The launch of Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library Cork takes place today from 11am. The event is free to register here.