Imagination Library - By Tara Panasewicz, CEO

Imagine a community where every child is ready to learn by the time they reach Kindergarten. United Way of Kenosha County shares this dream and we want to make it a reality.  Children begin learning right from birth, so we need to help them, along with their parents and caregivers, form habits that will help them become successful in academic achievement.  In our focus area of education, United Way of Kenosha County is working to address kindergarten literacy readiness by introducing Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library to our community.  Imagination Library promotes changes in home literacy environments and children’s attitudes toward reading and early literacy skills. These program outcomes will not only help children to be literacy ready by the time they reach Kindergarten but will also give them a love for reading that will last a lifetime.  

In 1995, Dolly Parton launched an exciting new effort to benefit the children of her home county in East Tennessee. Her vision was to foster the love of reading among her county’s preschool children by providing to them access to books regardless of their families income.   It became such a success that in 2000 a national replication effort was underway. By 2003, Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library had mailed one million books. It would prove to be the first of many millions of books sent to children around the world.  The success of the program is further demonstrated through research indicating children participating in the program for two or more years are 30% more likely to be ready for Kindergarten than those not enrolled in the program.  United Way of Kenosha County wants the children in our community to benefit from this success.

Through 20 years of research conducted by The Dollywood Foundation on Imagination Library programs in the United States, it was found the program promotes changes in home literacy environments and children’s attitudes towards reading and early literacy skills.  As a result of the program, parents read aloud more to their children and report their children own more books.  More so, children’s attitudes toward reading improve through testimonials of parents who stated their children are so excited they run to the mailbox when their book arrives addressed to them monthly, and by increased child book play. 

The United Way of Kenosha County feels Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library will bring tremendous value to the children in our community, who are undoubtedly our most valuable assets.  It is our hope that community partners, individuals, and foundations will want to sponsor the program or children on a renewing cycle to ensure that every child in Kenosha County begins their schooling with the ability to be successful in their academic careers.  You might not have the power to change the entire world, but you can change the world for a child in your community by giving them the gift of reading.  Alan Bennet said it best, “A book is a device to ignite the imagination.”  Contact Tara at to learn more.