FREMONT – Did you know that 65% of America’s fourth graders can’t yet read at a proficient level? The Fremont Area United Way, through a partnership with Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library, wants to change that statistic for Dodge County children.
Children from birth to age five who were read to at least three times a week by a family member were almost twice as likely to score in the top 25% in reading when compared to children who were read to less than 3 times a week. Reading to children, and encouraging children to read independently, in the early childhood years is linked to better school performance and better emotional well-being. Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library mails a new book to each participating child every month from birth to age five – 60 total books in all – in a program that relies on local sponsorship to reach more kids.
The 9th annual Fremont Area United Way “Hats Off to Literacy” event took place Tuesday afternoon at the Fremont Golf Club. The program raises over $25,000 each year to provide the Imagination Library books to Dodge county kids. The program started with a simple question: “How do we provide literacy opportunities for kids and families that can’t afford them?” according to Shawn Shanahan, executive director of the Fremont Area United Way. “It started out with a day of giving out books in a [Fremont] park in 2009, and in 2010, moved to the Imagination Library. Now, every child in our county receives a free book from birth to five, allowing all kids in our community to have at least 60 books and be better prepared for school.” Today, 16,200 Dodge county children receive books through the program.
“The cost of the books to the families is zero – this event fully funds our Imagination Library program, every year. We fund this program out of your generosity,” Shanahan told the attendees.
District 15 State Senator Lynne Walz spoke at the event. A former school teacher and a mother, Walz has seen first hand for decades the impact that reading can have on a child. She has also seen the impact that income disparity can have on an underprivileged child’s opportunities. “In a nation where we are blessed with the freedom to make our own path in life, to find success, and in an age where information and knowledge have never been more readily available – literacy provides a building block that we must protect,” Walz stressed, “and advocate through education and reading.”
Brett Meyer, the STEM coordinator at Fremont’s Trinity Lutheran School, was honored with the “Literacy Champion” award from the Fremont Area United Way for his work with the students at Trinity.
Also honored today was Dawn Gilfry. Her work with Rooted in Relationships, an initiative that partners with communities to enhance the social-emotional development of children, birth through age 8, goes hand-in-hand with the Imagination Library’s goals of better childhoods for disadvantaged youth.