Dolly Parton Imagination Libraries coming to Martin County

Apr. 3—Some organizations in Martin County are joining forces to bring the gift of books to the smallest citizens.

Efforts are underway to establish Dolly Parton Imagination Libraries.

"The Dolly Parton library sends books to children from birth to their fifth birthday free of charge to the families. The families do have to sign up for the program, but there is no cost to them," said Michelle Grace, project director for the Martin County Alliance for Economic Growth. "The Dolly Parton Imagination Library covers the cost of the books. We are doing fundraising because there is postage involved in mailing those books to homes. We are raising money to cover the cost."

Thanks to a state matching grant and an unexpected generous donation, the project has already raised enough money to get started for two years.

"Right now, the state is offering an initiative that provides a 50-50 match to bring this program to every county in the state for the first two years. That brings the local match to $2,154 for those two years and we have met that goal," said Grace. "Arvin Acres sent us a message and asked us how much money we would need to get to the start-up cost. We told them how much we had raised so far and they sent us a $1,200 check. It blew me away."

Meeting the initial goal for the project now has community leaders thinking larger and that means more fundraising to cover the project for five years.

"We are trying to raise $13,000. We are trying to do this with grass roots fundraising. We have not been going to the corporations and asking for money," said Grace. "I am just trying to get the people in the county to buy in to the program, and if their heart leads them to donate that is great. We have had individuals drop off $20, a $50 check, a $100 check. Every time someone hands me a check I tear up. It is just so moving."

The Martin County Alliance for Economic Development is just one part of the effort. Libraries in Loogootee and Shoals are also part of it.

A launch party for the Dolly Parton Imagination Library will be held at the Loogootee Library on April 19. A similar party will be held at the Shoals Library April 26.

"The libraries have been involved with this all along. They have attended the meetings. The libraries are partnering with the Alliance. They are going to manage the program. The Alliance is acting as the fiscal sponsor. We are doing the fundraising, keeping the books, paying the bills. The libraries will manage the data base and help get the kids signed up," said Grace. "We are also going to partner with the schools because both schools have preschool or day cares in them. That means three- and four-year-olds can get signed up. We are trying to get to kids who have not reached their fifth birthday."

Grace calls the project an investment for the future involving those kids who someday will become the leaders of the community.

"I see this as an investment in Martin County. We are investing in our youngest residents who someday will be our leaders, our small business owners and our people of tomorrow," said Grace. "This is a long-term investment. It is going to get books to these kids and with it reading and learning and brain development. The idea is to provide this now so that we can see a pay-off in our community in 20, 30, 40 years."

With $3,414 raised so far toward a long range goal of $13,000, Grace believes the community has shown that they are willing to provide the funds for the future.

"We still have a long way to go, but the residents of Martin County have been so supportive. There has been nothing but positive feedback from this program," she said. "I think it is much needed. I really want to see if we can get this funded for the next five years."

People can make donations at the Martin County Alliance for Economic Growth Office in Loogootee or they can mail their donation to 404 N. JFK Avenue, Loogootee, Indiana, 47553. Checks should have Dolly Parton Imagination Library in the memo line. There will also be donation boxes at the libraries during the launch parties.