Business, community support needed for books program

Apr 24, 2014 By Alejandra Silva, Staff Writer

Enrolled children receive one free book a month until they are 5 years old.

United Way of Southwest Wyoming has teamed up with the Dolly Parton Imagination Library to provide free books to preschool children in Fremont County.

The two organizations work together with the Dolly Parton Imagination Library buying books while United Way of Southwest Wyoming raises funds to ship the books and promote and register children for the program.

Kathy Tacke, the executive co-director of United Way of Southwest Wyoming in Rock Springs, presented the program to school districts in the county in March and said the program seeks donations from businesses, organizations and individuals to fund the delivery costs of sending a book to children ages 0-5 every month.

Books are selected to best fit the age of the child during the month it will be sent.

"It's all part of the education initiative," Tacke said. "It's about the importance of literacy."

The program is backed by the Riverton High School Graduation Matters campaign, said RHS principal John Griffith.

The program will be part of the school's initiative to create community connections and affect the lives of students either in high school or elementary school and target areas that may affect their learning, attendance, behavior and grades.

Graduation Matters focuses on dropout rates, and Griffith said surveys completed by local businesses showed they welcome graduates who stick around after high school and are employed locally.

"We need to start at a younger age," Griffith said, adding that the program looks into which grades students struggle with the most, because that can be an indicator of whether students will stay in school and do well.

Tacke and Kelly Frink, also the program's executive co-director, stressed the importance of reading to children right after birth. They said the practice improves literacy and keeps children from falling behind by the time they reach third grade.

Tacke and Frink referred to the Wyoming Children's Action Alliance data that showed a large percentage of Wyoming and Fremont County third-graders scoring "below proficient" in reading. Reading to children who do not yet know how to read creates an important parent and child interaction, Frink said.

She said county-wide support is critical to maintain the program for the five years children receive books. Donations go into a pool that can benefit all children in the county.

The cost per year per child is $35. Donation options include a workplace campaign that allows employees to donate through a payroll deduction.

The program constantly updates and manages the database of all enrolled children.

Community support also helps bring quality books from Dolly Parton's Imagination Library to families who don't have a library nearby, Frink said. Tacke added that grandparents also can sign up their grandchildren for the books.

The southwest region has roughly 2,000 registered children and covers Lincoln, Sublette, Sweetwater and Uinta counties. An advisory council is set up in each participating county to steer local fundraising and support.

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