By Brian Livingston / firstname.lastname@example.org
The Meridian Star
Officials with the United Way of East Mississippi, joined by representatives of the Phil Hardin Foundation and the Meridian Rotary Club, announced Tuesday morning during a press conference the expansion of the Imagination Library program that puts free books in the hands of children.
Thad Quarles, CEO for the United Way of Mississippi, said this is an important milestone for the program that is enjoying its second year in eastern Mississippi.
"When the United Way was looking for ways to make an impact on children in terms of their education and development we came across this program," Quarles said. "We wanted to make a difference and with the partnership of the Phil Hardin Foundation and the Meridian Rotary Club I believe we are making that impact by providing free books for children to read."
Quarles said the program, which previously covered Kemper, Clarke and parts of Lauderdale County, will now include many areas of Lauderdale County that were left out due to funding constraints. Quarles said with the assistance of the Phil Hardin Foundation and the Meridian Rotary Club, every child in Lauderdale County is eligible for the program.
"Before today there were parts of the county that were not included in this program but now we have all the children," Quarles said. "That is how it should be."
In 1996, country music icon and actor Dolly Parton launched Imagination Library to benefit the children of her home county in East Tennessee. Dolly's vision was to foster a love of reading among her county’s preschool children and their families by providing them with the gift of a specially selected book each month. By mailing high quality, age-appropriate books directly to their homes, she wanted children to be excited about books and to feel the magic that books can create. Moreover, she could insure that every child would have books, regardless of their family’s income.
Deb Parker, who is the Imagination Library coordinator, knows much about the eduction of children having served as a youth counselor and in education.
"I know what this means to a child," Parker said. "Now we are adding more children to the program and that can only mean bigger and better things for them."
Chad Vaughn, outgoing president of the Meridian Rotary Club, said the club membership viewed this support as an investment in education and the future of Lauderdale County.
"We are proud to be a part of this program because we see these children one day growing up to become valuable employees for Lauderdale County businesses," Vaughn said. "We pride ourselves on providing service above self. What better way to exercise that mantra than putting a book in the hands of a child."
"This expansion will impact more children," said Sheryl Feltenstein, a spokesperson for the Phil Hardin Foundation. "We are happy to help with this initiative."
Children from birth to age 5 are eligible for the program. The children must be legal residents of Lauderdale County. An official registration form can be accessed online at the United Way of East Mississippi or picked up at the United Way of East Mississippi office located at 2003 23rd Avenue in Meridian.
The only other requirement is that parents read with their children. The first books, once the registration is accepted, will begin arriving at the home in eight to 10 weeks. Each month an age appropriate book will arrive until the child turns 5 or if the child moves out of Lauderdale County.