Imagination Library Hands Out 200,000th Book
Tennessee Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey Reads to Crowd
By MAC McLEAN | BRISTOL HERALD COURIER | June 02, 2009*** Published: May 30, 2009 in the Bristol (Va.) Herald Courier. ***
KINGSPORT, Tenn. – Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey slowly turned the pages of Llama, Llama Red Pajama as he read the book to a group of 4- and 5-year-olds following a Friday news conference at Kingsport's First Presbyterian Church.
It was an odd moment for the Blountville state Senator, whose pet llama made front page news in January 2004 after it was killed by a pair of roaming dogs. It also was a special moment for Ramsey, because his reading commemorated the Sullivan County Imagination Library's 200,000th book.
"You want to teach kids to value reading and learn how to read at an early age," Ramsey said of the program, which currently sends books to about 5,000 Sullivan County children.
Started by country music singer Dolly Parton in 1996, the Imagination Library aims to send one free book each month to children from the day they are born to their 5th birthday. By 2008, the program distributed books to 420,000 children in 43 states, the District of Columbia and several Canadian provinces.
Sullivan County joined the list in September 2004.
"The magic of it for a child is getting [a book] in the mail with their name on it," said Jan Miles, president of the Sullivan County Imagination Library.
Participating in the program costs about $28 per child per year. Half of the money is covered by the Governor's Books From Birth Foundation, a group Gov. Phil Bredesen started in 2004 to boost early reading among Tennessee children.
"Sullivan County has been a stand-out county from the very beginning of the program," said Books from Birth Vice President Claiborne Gayden. Distributing 200,000 books was a "tremendous accomplishment" for a county of Sullivan's size, he said.
Despite that success, Miles said, the Sullivan County Imagination Library and its volunteers still have a lot of work ahead of them. Based on the 2000 Census, Miles estimates there are 8,500 children under age 5 in the county, which means the program is sending books to only half the children who qualify. The program also is in need of some extra donations, she said. Due to the economy some donors have had to cut back on what they can provide, and others have been "not-too-swift" in sending their checks, she said.
"It's a tough funding year," said former Sullivan County Mayor Richard Venable. "So, go out to anyone you can talk to and put your hand in their pocket."