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United Way of CK recieves $20K grant from Schmidt Foundation
Grant support books and literacy for children through Dolly Parton's Imagination Library
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The Dolly Parton Imagination Library
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The United Way of Central Kansas announced Thursday the receipt of a $20,000 grant from the Schmidt Foundation to support Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library in Barton and Pawnee counties. 

“The Schmidt Foundation, committed to enhancing the quality of life in communities through its focus on Education, Healthcare, the Arts, and Economic Development, has chosen to invest in the future of local children through this impactful literacy program,” said UWCK Executive Director Charell Owings. “Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library, a renowned initiative, ensures that each registered child receives a high-quality, age-appropriate book every month, directly addressed to them, at no cost to their family.”

The Imagination Library provides the infrastructure including managing the central database, coordinating book selections and wholesale purchasing. It also incurs the cost of the program’s administrative expenses and coordinates the monthly mailings. The United Way of Central Kansas’ role is coordinating with local libraries, facilitating family sign-ups and securing essential funding to sustain the program in Barton and Pawnee counties.

The program was initiated in 2012 in Larned and Ellinwood, in partnership with the Ellinwood Community Library Foundation and the Jordaan Memorial Library, Owings said. “The program has since grown exponentially with additional support from individuals, businesses and organizations that recognize the profound impact of providing books to children.”

In 2017, a concerted effort was made to extend coverage to all communities not already receiving books in Barton and Pawnee counties, garnering commitments from over 60 entities, some of which pledged support for a five-year duration.

In 2022, the Kansas Children’s Cabinet joined in by providing funding for 50% of the program statewide, significantly enhancing the sustainability of the initiative, she said. By 2023, Kansas became the 16th state to achieve 100% coverage for Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library, marking a significant milestone in the program’s history. 

The program has seen a surge in popularity across the state. In United Way of Central Kansas’ area, the program has grown from 670 books mailed to area children in January 2023 to 897 books in December 2023. 

“We are humbled by this incredible gift from the Schmidt Foundation. Their generous funding will cover nearly two years of this program; opening doors to imagination and knowledge for countless children across Barton and Pawnee Counties. This investment in literacy is an investment in the future, and we are grateful for partners who share our commitment to nurturing the minds of our community’s youngest members,” said Owings. “Thanks to support from the Schmidt Foundation, the United Way of Central Kansas looks forward to continuing to make a positive difference in the lives of children through the power of literacy and fostering a love for reading among the region’s youth.”

One can sign up for the program at their local library or online at Check Availability - Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library.