De QUEEN, Ark.-Some Sevier County, Ark., residents are raising funds to distribute books to children through the Dolly Parton Imagination Library.
The original program began in 1995 in Parton's home county of Sevier in Tennessee. The books were originally distributed in the county, and then, as it grew more successful, the program was expanded to the state of Tennessee before going national and now international.
De Queen resident Zahir "ZZ" Kamruddin learned of the program when he moved to Nashville, Tenn., in 2006.
"When I moved back to De Queen 10 years later, I decided to pursue the program here," he said. "I am all for supporting the young adults when I can."
The theory behind the Imagination Library is that if parents read to their children from birth to age 5, the children will learn to enjoy reading and practice it their entire lives. Children become eligible for the program the day they are born.
The cost of a year's supply of books through the Imagination Library is $25, and the child will receive a book every month until they turn 6. Another benefit the program offers is that twice a year a book comes in Spanish and English so that Spanish speakers can become familiar with English and vice-versa.
Kamruddin and Sevier County residents Mary Ellen Dooley and Melanie Marshall created a 501(c)(3) company called Imagination Library of Southwest Ark.
In the Imagination Library program, they are known as "Local Champions" and are responsible for enrolling children who live within their geographical area. They promote their local programs online and at events. While the Imagination Library negotiates wholesale pricing for the books, Local Champions are responsible for securing funds to cover that cost. Books are 100 percent free to enrolled children because their Local Champion has secured funds to cover the cost of the books and the shipping fees.
There are about 1,350 kids in Sevier County, meaning the local organization needs to raise $34,000 annually to keep every child in the county in books. The organization has raised $8,000 thus far and has a number of children signed up. They hope to have more children signed up before school starts.
Donations to the group are tax deductible. Registration is open and parents log on to imaginationlibrary.com to sign up; or they can pick up the registration form at the local library or De Queen Ford. If more than one child in the house qualifies, they'll both receive their own books mailed directly to them.
Kamruddin said it's important to foster a love of reading in children while they are still very young. He said reading on the internet can often lead to distractions.
"A book in hand makes a total difference," he said.