United Way Ottawa County launches Imagination Library

Sep 23, 2020 | Around Ottawa County, Featured | 0 comments

April Schalk and Alison Lanza Falls from United Way in Ottawa County introduce sisters Alexya and Kennedy Henson and Kaiden Bowen to Imagination Library, a program that will put free books in the hands of Ottawa County children who are 5 years old, and younger. (Photo by Brenda Haas)

Imagine a full bookshelf, available to a child at home before he or she ever enters a kindergarten classroom!

Partnering with the Ohio Governor’s Imagination Library (OGIL), United Way in Ottawa County and community leaders are “imagining” just such a scenario with this month’s launch of Imagination Library in Ottawa County.

April Schalk, Office Manager of United Way of Ottawa County, reads “Lady Bug Girl” to young family friends two-year-old Ellieyonna and four-year-old Eric Buckley. (Photo by Brenda Haas)

The combined efforts will put up to 60 picture books in the hands of every Ottawa County child, from birth to age 5.

“Books are the foundation of everything we do in later life, and reading to children every day is time well spent,” said Maria Moon, of Mrs. Moon’s Pre-School in Port Clinton. Having educated hundreds of young readers in the area, she is glad to see Imagination Library come to Ottawa County.

“Books open up their world, helping children solve problems, love nature, and love other people,” said Moon.

Developing literacy begins at birth, according to human development and psychology experts Betty Hart and Todd R. Risley, authors of “The Early Catastrophe: The 30 Million Word Gap by Age 3.”

“By the age of three, a child’s brain is already 80% developed. By the time a child enters kindergarten, they must already know thousands of words in order to succeed in the classroom,” reported Hart and Risley.

Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library, which is partnering with the OGIL, was founded in 1995 and initially delivered books to children in Sevier County, Tenn., where Dolly was born. The program has grown to deliver over 1 million new books to children every month in Ohio, across the United States, and around the world.

According to the OGIL website, www.ohioimaginationlibrary.org, when First Lady Fran DeWine’s grandchildren participated in the program, she saw the impact the books had and “wanted every child across Ohio to have that same opportunity.”

Alison Lanza Falls, the steering committee committee chair of Imagination Library in Ottawa County, helps reading mascot, Yogi, to “tell a story” to junior reader Ellieyonna Buckley. (Photo by Brenda Haas)

In 2019, the Ohio legislature included $5 million in its budget to jump start the Ohio Governor’s Imagination Library over a course of two years. Working to bring early literacy to each of Ohio’s 88 counties, Governor Mike DeWine wants to provide OGIL enrollment to every eligible Ohio child by 2021.

Approximately 2,000 Ottawa County children, of pre-school age, could benefit from receiving these free books. Studies have shown that improving early literacy leads to better education and training, improved employment outcomes, less poverty, and reduced crime.

The books, which are mailed directly to each child each month and cost approximately $25 per child per year, are selected by a panel of early childhood literacy experts.

“It is wonderful to feel the energy and caring by local organizations, generous private donors and a magnificent anonymous grant, come together for the first year’s match to the OGIL program and launch of Imagination Library in Ottawa County,” said Alison Lanza Falls, United Way in Ottawa County Advisory Board member. “This is just the beginning of more hard work to get the word out, help parents enroll their preschoolers and continue to raise funds to ensure the viability and growth of Imagination Library in the years ahead.”

Community organizations and individual leaders are collaborating, financially and administratively, to make this possible. As a designated partner, United Way of Greater Toledo, via the Ottawa County office, will handle the administration of Ottawa County Imagination Library program, serving as the conduit for direct community donations and enrollment of children in the area.

With the motto of “starting a new chapter to improve early childhood literacy across Ohio,” OGIL matches all funds raised, dollar for dollar. Every $1.05 donated provides one new book for a child.

To enroll a child in Imagination Library in Ottawa County, follow this link and click on the “Register Now” tab.

For more information about the OGIL program, visit www.ohioimaginationlibrary.org. Those businesses, organizations, or individuals interested in supporting this cause should call United Way in Ottawa County, 419-734-6654 or email info@unitedwayottawacounty.org.

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