Dolly Parton is many things: singer, songwriter, actress, and theme park proprietress. But despite all these talents, perhaps her role as a philanthropist gives her the most joy. Dolly Parton never forgot where she came from—dirt poor in the Smoky Mountains—and now that she has the resources to give back to her hometown, she’s done just that, multiple times over. Dollywood employs 30,000 people in Pigeon Forge and brings millions of tourists to the area each year, but her other way of giving back impacts even the least of these: Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library, her original idea to encourage and foster literacy amongst the children of her hometown and the surrounding Smoky Mountain communities.
It all started in 1996, when Dolly realized the need children had for books, especially those from impoverished families. Ergo, the Imagination Library, a foundation that mails a brand new, age-appropriate book every month every child under five in Sevier County, Tennessee.
Over its 14 years of existence, the Imagination Library has made a difference Eastern Tennessee and beyond. Some interesting tidbits from the Imagination Library library:
- The very first book the foundation chose to mail out was The Little Engine That Could.
- And, as of July 2010, the most recently delivered book was Look Out Kindergarten, Here I Come!
- Penguin Group USA holds the rights as the exclusive publisher of the Imagination Library Books.
- In 2000, the program expanded to children living in Branson, Missouri and in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, two locations where Dolly’s businesses operates.
- In the 1,068 communities involved, just under 561,000 children are enrolled.
- In 2009, 6.2 million books were mailed, bringing the total number of books distributed by Dolly’s Imagination Library to more than 23 million!
- In the United Kingdom, the Imagination Library mailed its 100,000th book in 2009.
- Another international location, Canada, enrolled 100% more children each month in 2009.
- A documentary film crew recently followed Dolly and discussed her commitment to literacy and children. The Book Lady is being shopped around in Canada.
- Dolly wrote and published her own book for children, I am a Rainbow, in 2009, and she vowed that she would donate all royalties to the Dollywood Foundation that oversees the Imagination Library.
The Imagination Library works by inspiring communities to take initiative when it comes to promoting literacy. A community can provide the Imagination Library program for their preschool-aged children by fronting the money for the books, covering mailing fees, and registering the children into the database. The Dollywood Foundation takes care of the rest and ensures delivery of the books to all the homes. Is your community is ready to make this commitment to the children?