For 8 years now, Edgefield County First Steps has been active in getting books to many of Edgefield County’s youngest children. According to Candi Lalonde, Executive Director of Edgefield County First Steps, the Imagination Library program has served over 600 children since it was started here in Edgefield in 2004. “We have mailed over 11,000 books and raised more than $30,000 locally to support this program,” Candi stated.
The “Imagination Library” is the creation of country music star Dolly Parton, and was started in her home town of Sevier County, Tennessee in 1996. The Dollywood Foundation provides books free to all preschoolers in Sevier County. In 1999, Dolly announced she would extend the opportunity to communities nationally to replicate the Imagination Library in their own area. Each community must financially support the effort, but the foundation provides technical assistance, assists with public relations and marketing materials, and coordinates the ordering and mailing of the books.
Educators have identified preschool reading and parent involvement as among the most important steps toward a child’s success in school. The key is to start as early as possible. To immerse a child in a literacy environment is critical. The more words a child hears, the larger the child’s vocabulary, and the larger the child’s vocabulary, the more likely a child will be a proficient reader.
However, in order to read with a child, books must be in the home. Most of the children already enrolled are referrals from local agencies like DSS, the school district and Head Start. Candi states, “Since we have limited resources, we are trying to be sure we enroll the children who would benefit the most from this program. Pre-surveys that have been completed by many of the families involved indicate that 52% of these families have less than 10 books in their home”. Survey results also indicate that after a child has been enrolled in the program for at least 1 year, there is a 43% increase in the amount of time a parent or caregiver spends reading to their child.
The program itself is very simple. Children who are registered for the program are Edgefield County residents and receive a book a month until their 5th birthday. There is no cost at all to the family and the books are mailed directly to the children at their homes. Edgefield County First Steps actively raises money through donations from individuals, groups, organizations, and businesses (these are referred to as “sponsors”). “Our goal this year is $5,000.00 and we have such tremendous support from the community that I am sure we will be able to reach this goal,” Candi said.
The cost to sponsor one child is $27.00 and this will provide a child with 12 books (one book a month for one year). One of the great things about this program is that costs have remained low, and there has never been an increase in the book prices or mailing since the program began.
As Edgefield County First Steps gets this year’s fundraising campaign underway, they want to recognize the generous sponsors who contributed last year. “Without them, the program would not exist and their support is greatly appreciated,” Candi said. Donations are accepted all throughout the year. All donations are tax deductible and checks should be made payable to Edgefield County First Steps. The mailing address is P.O. Box 295, Edgefield, S.C. To sponsor a child, or for more information, please contact Candi Lalonde at 275-0800.