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Marietta Community Foundation pushes reading program for kids

MARIETTA — Fostering a love of reading in children is crucial for their success in school, and the Dolly Parton Imagination Library attempts that task by sending books to preschool children.

The program has been active in Washington County for several years, but of the 3,000 or so children who are eligible for it, about 200 have signed up. The Marietta Community Foundation is pushing to expand the program’s reach.

“In the past year we’ve been trying to get more children registered and more donations,” foundation communications and program director Mason Beuhring said. “Our target is to get every child enrolled and fully funded. We’ve really been pushing it since late March, going around to service clubs and other organizations, giving our presentation about the program.”

The Imagination Library program will send one book a month to children age 5 and younger who are enrolled. It’s an effort to instill enthusiasm for reading in children before they reach school age, better preparing them for the challenge of education and broadening their horizons. The organization has nearly 1.5 million children registered and has, since 1995, sent out 128 million books. The titles range from the classic “The Little Engine That Could” to “Little Poems for Tiny Ears” and “If I Were a Kangaroo.” The books are clustered by age group.

Beuhring said the foundation has set aside $20,000 as a matching grant for any contributions received before the end of the year. Already, he said, the Friends of the Washington County Library has committed $10,000. If the foundation can raise another $10,000 in the next few weeks, that will equal a program fund of $40,000, enough to operate it for several years, depending on the number of children who register.

The Imagination Library indicates that in most counties the optimum enrollment is about 60 percent of eligible children. Census data shows that Washington County is home to just fewer than 3,000 children who are 5 years old or younger. The program is free to children and families, paid for by a local sponsor. The cost to the sponsor is about $25 per child per year.

“This is really a major push by the foundation, based on research that exposure to print can increase child literacy considerably,” Beuhring said. “It’s our effort to increase literacy and help children meet those developmental milestones.”

Phillips Elementary School Principal Kristi Lantz encourages families of her students to tune into the school’s Facebook page every Tuesday at 8 p.m. for a live read-aloud session called Tucked-In Tuesday.

“It’s so important for children of any age to be read aloud to, to hear fluent readers, to be able to imagine a world beyond their front porch,” she said.

Marietta City Schools also offers prerecorded readings for children that can be viewed on the district Facebook page on Sundays at 7 p.m.

“Those literacy and foundational reading skills need to be instilled in children long before they start school,” Lantz said. “Many start school well behind where they should be.”

The school tries to push parents to get children their own library cards, but the Imagination Library program can allow families to build their own libraries at home, she said.

Beurhing said the Marietta Community Foundation can be contacted regarding donations.

“You can call the foundation any time, or just stop by,” he said.

Michael Kelly can be contacted at mkelly@mariettatimes.com.

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