New ’Gift the Love of Reading’ program expands reach of Imagination Library |

New ’Gift the Love of Reading’ program expands reach of Imagination Library

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — According to Pam Ruehle, the “Gift the Love of Reading“ program offered through the Imagination Library is like giving twice as much and promises to be around long after the holiday season.

“I’ve always loved giving books, and this is such a great way to do that,” said Ruehle, who is the chairperson of Women United, an affiliate of Routt County United Way and the group that runs Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library program in Routt County.

The program provides local children, ages birth to 5, with a new book every month.

“It’s great because then the child gets mail once a month that includes their book. We’ve had parents say that the minute the book comes, the child wants to drop everything to sit down and read it,” Ruehle said. “That’s so exciting for us to hear because that’s what we want. That’s how children build their literacy skills.”

Getting parents to read to their children is a goal of the program, which is aimed at improving literacy for children age 5 and younger and making sure children are ready for kindergarten.

Parents in Routt County can sign up for the program through Routt County United Way at no cost. The $25-a-year fee to be a part of the program — $125 for the five years children are eligible — is covered by Routt County United Way. The program currently has 560 active members and 305 who have “graduated” and gone onto kindergarten.

Normally, the program signs up 70 to 80 children at the annual Halloween Stroll, but that event was canceled this year because of COVID-19. The group also gets a helping hand from UCHealth Yampa Valley Medical Center, which normally signs up newborns, but those running the program also want to make people aware that they can reach out to Routt County United Way any time to sign up to receive books.

The new “Gift the Love of Reading” program allows county residents to enroll children in the program who live outside of Routt County in places not served by Imagination Library for a tax-deductible contribution of $250. The contribution also helps provide books to a local child.

“If you live in Routt County and you have a grandchild, a niece, a nephew, the child of a college friend or whoever you know that lives outside of Routt County, for $250, you can sign that child up for the five years,” Ruehle said. “That covers them, and then the other $125 goes into our fund here to continue to sign children up.”

Inspired by her father’s inability to read and write, country western icon Dolly Parton started her Imagination Library in 1995 for the children living in Sevier County, Tennessee, where she was born. Today, the program spans four countries and mails over 1 million free books each month to children around the world.

Routt County United Way Executive Director Kate Nowak believes the program, which started locally in 2018, is having an impact.

“When we initially started it, the literacy rate, based on the DIBLES Composite scores for Routt County, showed that 39% of the kids were not ready for kindergarten and literacy,” Nowak said. “The last time — I think it was a year ago — we looked at those stats, we had improved 11 points. Now, I’m not saying that we’re the only ones that were responsible for that 11-point gain, but I think we contributed to it.”

A recent survey of more than 520 parents and guardians of book recipients revealed other promising trends, according to educational consultant Lynn Zinn, who also is a member of Women United. The survey showed that the program resulted in parents reading more to their children, with 95% saying their children had some interest in reading and 8% saying the program had changed their children’s interest in reading.

“The most important effects are what parents see as their children’s readiness when they get into kindergarten,” Zinn said. “One hundred percent of the respondents said that there was either some effect, or a large effect, on their child’s readiness for kindergarten.”

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