Tuesday morning at the Great Bend Public Library a larger-than-average gathering of parents and toddlers attended the special story time for the kickoff of Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library. Great Bend now joins other Barton County libraries in offering the program that provides a new book each month to each registered child in the 67530 zip code from birth through 5 years old.
“We had a remarkably good response from the community,” United Way of Central Kansas Board Vice President Mark Mingenback said.
Around 1,000 Great Bend children are anticipated to take part in the program each year.
Even though the UWCK budget was already committed, $20,000 was raised to fully fund the program for 2018, and individuals and service clubs have also committed $5,000 a year for the next four years.
Area financial institutions have also hinted support will be forthcoming on an annual basis, he said.
Amy Mahill, GBPL Youth Services guru, welcomed preschoolers to the Children’s Library and introduced special guest Debbie Deutsch, impersonating Dolly Parton. She read a picture book about a toddler taking a walk in the neighborhood. Following the story, children were invited to take part in a paper and glue craft, making a train out of their names. Cookies were served, and parents were encouraged to sign their children up for the program.
According to Mahill, the turnout was similar to what the library usually sees during the summertime. Once school starts, attendance goes down.
“Lots of people are excited, and so are we. We hope they continue to come back for our story time,” she said.
Emily Leeds, a licensed day care provider, was there with six children and a baby. Story time is one of the regular weekly activities they attend. She planned to share applications for the program with parents later that day.
UWCK Director Gaila Demel said she would be visiting other day cares, hospitals, doctors’ offices and banks today as part of a registration blitz. That way, parents can fill them out in advance of turning them in at the library.
“It’s important that we build relationships between the families and the library,” Demel said. “When children graduate out of Dolly Parton, they still remain engaged with the library because it’s already familiar to them.”
Community partners also attended the event, including a representative from Congressman Roger Marshall’s district office in Salina, Nikki Meagher. Marshall is very supportive of the program and pleased it will be offered in his hometown, she said.
Former UWCK Director Julie Bugner-Smith attended Tuesday morning with Demel. During the initial phases of bringing the program to Great Bend, she heard reports from preschool and kindergarten teachers who were regularly encountering incoming students who were unfamiliar with books and had not been read to.
Parents of these children would explain they didn’t read to their children or provide them with books because they could not afford to, she said. For this reason, UWCK required applications for the program be submitted at the local library, rather than online or through the mail.
“Dolly Parton’s organization doesn’t require this, but we do,” Mingenback said. “This way, they can also sign up for a library card if they want to, and they can build a relationship with their public library and hopefully sign up for a free library card at the same time.”
Krista Smith, a GBPL Board of Directors member, advocated for the library’s support of the Dolly Parton program earlier this summer, because she felt it would bring more people into the library, help them to become more familiar with all the services the public library has to offer, and help children to be better prepared for school.
“I’m very pleased with the turnout. There were so many children and so many parents, and so many grandparents,” she said.
Applications will continue to be available at the library, and parents can register their children at any time. Books are high-quality, durable, mostly hard covered, and are shipped directly to the child’s home. For families with multiple children, each child will receive his or her own books.
Sponsor cards are also available, and individuals can support a child in the program for $30 a year.