Community Foundation President and CEO Tina Peterson, CenterPoint Energy Foundation President Amanda Schmitt, and Ben Battaglia, Founder of Hoosiers Read. Courtesy photo

Editor’s note: The following is a press release from the Community Foundation of Bloomington and Monroe County. Bloom has republished it here with edits for style and clarity.

Through Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library, area children 5 and younger are now eligible for a free book-gifting program that mails high-quality, age-appropriate books every month directly to their homes.

Bringing the Imagination Library to Monroe County was made possible by a partnership between CenterPoint Energy Foundation, Hoosiers Read, and the Community Foundation of Bloomington and Monroe County’s Monroe Smart Start program.

Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library is available to children regardless of family income. Monroe County families with children younger than 5 can enroll in the book program by visiting Multiple children can be enrolled in the same household. Each child will receive a free new book each month up to their fifth birthday.

This effort is being funded through a $1 million grant by the CenterPoint Energy Foundation to expand Hoosiers Read into Morgan, Madison, Vigo, and Vanderburgh Counties. Hoosiers Read was born out of the Mitch Daniels Leadership Foundation (MDLF). Each year, Mitch Daniels Leadership Fellows pitch influential state leaders on ideas to improve Indiana, and 2019–2020 Fellow Ben Battaglia’s proposal to enhance literacy by mailing free books to young children struck a chord, and Hoosiers Read was formed.

Representatives from the Community Foundation, CenterPoint Energy Foundation, and Hoosiers Read gathered on June 17 for the special announcement at the WonderLab Museum’s Science Sprouts Place and Sprouts Lab, a popular exhibit area designed to support learning and exploration for infants, toddlers, and their caregivers.

“It is a perfect community match that this exciting announcement event took place in Science Sprouts Place, which was also supported in part by a generous grant from the Community Foundation,” says Karen Jepson-Innes, WonderLab’s executive director.

“WonderLab believes in the importance of enriched learning experiences from birth, and this includes language development at its very core,” she adds. “In fact, at the very center of Science Sprouts Place is the Reading Nook, with its books and materials that strengthen a young child’s cognitive development and child-caregiver interactions. We were honored to be the site for the kick-off for this exciting new resource for our community!”

Inspired by her father’s inability to read or write, entertainment icon Dolly Parton founded the Imagination Library in 1995. The program started as a local effort in Dolly’s home of Sevier County, Tennessee, with the hopes of inspiring a love of reading and learning from a young age. A total of 1,760 books were delivered in the library’s first order. The program became such a success that in 2000 a national replication effort began. What began as a local program grew into an international movement. By 2020, Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library had distributed 150 million books in the United States, Canada, Australia, the United Kingdom, and the Republic of Ireland.

“We couldn’t be more excited about what the grant from the CenterPoint Energy Foundation means for children and families,” said Community Foundation President and CEO Tina Peterson. “What an amazing opportunity for our community’s youngest learners to develop a love for books and reading at an early age.”

“Early learning, literacy, and school readiness have been priorities of the Community Foundation for the past 15 years through our Monroe Smart Start initiative,” adds Peterson. “We know early learning is critical for school readiness and later success in school and life. We are grateful to CenterPoint Energy Foundation and Hoosiers Read for helping to bring the Dolly Parton Imagination Library to Monroe County families, and we look forward to working with them to enroll as many families as possible.”