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Books in mailbox can inspire kids about reading

Imagine this: A child who is eager to explore, learn and grow is signed up for a program where every month he or she receives a package in the mail from a nice lady in Nashville containing a brand new book.
For free.
Impossible? Not quite.
Imagination Library is the name of this very charity that country music legend Dolly Parton established back in 1996 to help foster a love for reading among young children in East Tennessee.
Parton’s program has grown from sending just a few dozen books each year to sending nearly 40 million books to more than 755,000 children under the age of five across the United States, Canada Australia and the UK.
Parton’s charity partners with any community that is willing to help support it locally and benefits children of any background without any eligibility requirements other than age.
Addison County Readers (ACR), a nonprofit organization based in Middlebury, works to facilitate local participation in this program and has helped more than 1,025 children in Addison County connect with Imagination Library.
The group coordinates with area libraries, schools and hospitals to engage as many participants in the program as possible and works to fundraise to support the program. “It costs about $30 per year per child to be enrolled in the program, so our job as an organization is to register the kids and find the funding to sustain the program,” board member Pat Anderson says.
One special local branch of this program is run in partnership with Porter Hospital’s birthing center and is called “Books at Birth.”
Through this program, every child that is born at Porter is given a packet with a free book and enrollment information in the Imagination Library program and Addison County Readers. Nurses and midwives help new families understand the value of this program beginning at infancy and can help with the enrollment forms.
Anderson, who has been a volunteer with Addison County Readers since its inception in 2007, says her commitment comes from personally witnessing “how much books can impact one’s whole life, forever.” More and more connections are being made every day between early access to books and success rates in school, Anderson says.
“We believe that a child who reads every day is building a foundation for literacy and starts school with a tremendous advantage,” adds ACR President Mary Dodge.
If a child enrolls in the program at infancy, they will have 60 books by the time they graduate from the program and move on to kindergarten. That translates into a lot of information that children absorb early in life and expands their ability to build connections as they reach school age.
Being a small volunteer-based organization, Addison County Readers is limited in its ability to appear in public for events and gatherings, but it does organize some events each year to help engage new participants as well as volunteers for its programs.
That all adds up to a lot of work, but according to Dodge, it’s worth it. “Parents tell us how much the program means to them and their children.  They talk about the stories, retell the plot and then return to look at the book on their own,” she says. “Their comments help us know that we are doing important and joyful work.”
As this story went to press, the group was planning an appearance at the Middlebury Farmers’ Market on Saturday, July 19. In partnership with Farmer’s Market coordinator Lauren Henchey, Addison County Readers plans to set up a “reading nook” at the market to offer a cozy relief from the busy surroundings and offer information about the programs that Addison County Readers supports.
The group also is planning to be at Vergennes Day on Aug. 23 as well as at the Bristol Harvest Festival in September and the Vergennes Union Elementary School’s Christmas Craft Fair in December in further attempts to engage kids and families in public reading and exploration.

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