In the latest installment of our occasional conversations with Fort Worth newsmakers, Faye Beaulieu, senior vice president of community investment at United Way Tarrant County, shares more on the Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library program.
This conversation has been edited for length and clarity. To hear the full conversation, please listen to the audio file attached to this article.
Kristen Barton: Hello everyone, this is Kristen Barton, education reporter at the Fort Worth Report, and I am here today to spend a few minutes with Faye Beaulieu, the senior vice president of Community Investment at United Way, Tarrant County. She is going to tell us a little bit about Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library, which is a program managed by United Way. How are you today?
Faye Beaulieu: I am terrific. Thank you.
Barton: I’m such a bookworm so I’m so excited to talk with you. Tell me about the program to get started.
Beaulieu: I would love to. And you’re not supposed to have favorites around here, but if I did, this would really be among my top programs. Anytime you’re putting books into the hands of kids, I think you’re just doing a huge service to really lift the entire community.
What this program does is, for children that are registered in the program, it mails a book a month, age appropriate, to any child that’s registered from birth to the day that child turns five. They could have, if they took advantage of the entire spectrum, they could have a library of 60 books by that day that they actually turned five, and it’s free. There’s no cost to them. We fundraise to maintain the program and pay the costs.
Barton: Tell me how people can get involved. Is there a time span that you have to register? Can you get involved at any time?
Beaulieu: It’s evergreen, so anybody can come into the program at any point. We ideally think before a child’s first birthday, so that they have a longer runway to receive books, but there is no calendar time when you can jump on or come into the program.
You can just go to the United Way website and look under our work or type it into the search box. And it will take you to a page that will have an icon where you can register, and that’s really all there is to it. About eight to 10 weeks after the registration is received, that child will start receiving books. We have to have time to take the registration, get it into the database, and they have to go through their process on the other end to get the books shipped out.
Barton: You mentioned earlier that you think anytime you’re putting a book in the hands of a child it’s a service to the community, I really want to touch on that a little bit more. Tell me about the value of kids reading and its effect on a community.
Beaulieu: I’m a longtime education advocate. Reading is the doorway to a child’s academic success. And the earlier that you read to them, the more words they are exposed to, and the bigger springboard they have to be successful in school.
Who can register?
Anyone can register for free in these 37 zip codes. There is no income requirement.
76006, 76010, 76011, 76012, 76014, 76018, 76028, 76039, 76040, 76063, 76104, 76105, 76110, 76111, 76112, 76116, 76117, 76119, 76134, 76135, 76148, 76164, 76179, 76013, 76015, 76022, 76053, 76103, 76106, 76114, 76115, 76120, 76132, 76133, 76140, 76155, 76180
They spend their first years in pre-K to grade three learning to read, learning their phonics, learning word association, word recognition. And then from grade three on, they’re reading to learn. They’re using what they learned early on to absorb and take in information and knowledge about various subjects that they’re exposed to.
The more books in the home, the bigger the opportunity for them to be read to or to read on their own and with Dolly Parton’s focus on the very, very young child, you have the opportunity not just to build the child’s academic success, but the bonding in terms of the family. Older ones are reading to younger ones, parents are reading to children, they’re spending time together. And it starts with board books with very, very young children, infants. As the child grows, the nature of the book changes to be age appropriate and you get tho that final book, that’s sent when they turn five, it’s a book about the first day of kindergarten and what that child can expect.
Barton: How long has this been a program for United Way? And is there any type of time limit on it? Or do you see United Way continuing to do this?
Beaulieu: Well, it’s been going on for eight to 10 years. During that time, we’ve put over 200,000 books into the homes in the county to raise that level of literacy and academic preparation. We don’t have a finite end for this program, as long as the community continues to fund it — and we have some major entities who help us with this, and some individual donations come as well — as long as the community is receptive and we can keep it funded, then we’ll keep doing it. It’s just such a huge key to making children more likely to be academically successful.
Barton: How can people donate?
Beaulieu: They can go to unitedwaytarrant.org and click on the donate button and they will have that opportunity.
Barton: Is there anything else that you want people to know about the program that you think is important?
Beaulieu: I can’t think of anything except just to reiterate that the earlier a child is exposed to reading books that are age appropriate, and the more the family reads together, the more the child understands that that’s a lifelong habit. And you’re opening that door to lifelong learning and the path to success.
Barton: If any of the other readers or listeners have another topic that you would like to hear about or someone you would like us to spend a few minutes with, you can send any of the reporters in email or you can email firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also reach us on any of our social media channels.
Kristen Barton is an education reporter for the Fort Worth Report. Contact her at email@example.com. At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.