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The United Way of Greater Texarkana recently expanded its Imagination Library program to include outlying towns around Texarkana.

Through Imagination Library, children 0 to 5 receive a book a month in the mail.

The program, which kicked off in January, was serving newborns from the 75501 and 71854 ZIP codes in Texarkana. They've added the 75503 ZIP code in Texarkana as well as the Fouke, Genoa, Redwater, Hooks and New Boston areas.

"Potentially this will include hundreds more kids," said Mark Bledsoe, United Way president/CEO.

Originally Imagination Library was only going to be available to newborn children but because participation has been slow, the United Way has now opened it up siblings of newborns as long as they are under 5.

The program has gotten off to a slow start. Since January only a little more than 40 newborns have been registered by their parents, who receive registration cards at the hospital when the baby is born.

"It's strictly up to those parents or guardians to send in the cards," Bledsoe said. "I think many people haven't registered for it because maybe they think they're taking from someone else if they do, but this is open to all demographics and socioeconomic groups. We're just trying to encourage parents to read to these newborns so when they reach school age, they're ready to perform and they're at grade level."

Other towns where Imagination Library has been in place for years have seen good results from the program.

"In the cities that have implemented this, children that have taken kindergarten entrance exams have fared much better than those who've not had this available," he said.

In the coming years, Bledsoe is hoping Imagination Library has the same impact on kids here that it's been shown to have in other areas.

"I'm hoping it will increase reading levels of kids that go through this program and in the long run that kids will go further with their education, want to pick up books to learn and fall in love with reading," Bledsoe said.

It costs $125 to sponsor a child throughout the duration of the program. Anyone interested in donating to Imagination Library can call the United Way office at 903-794-3105.

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