TOLEDO (WTOL) - A free program is expanding to every zip code in Toledo to promote literacy for children in our community.
Debbie Williams is a part of the Women's Initiative of the United Way of Greater Toledo, and board chair of Imagination Library.
She said she is thrilled to bring this international program to Toledo. As she explains, it is so important for this community.
“Eighty-three percent of the children entering the Toledo Public School system had very low kindergarten readiness scores, which means they don’t know letters, numbers, they don’t know how to use a book, colors. That’s a substantial number of young learners who are enrolling in school and are already behind," Williams said.
Dolly Parton's Imagination Library is a book gifting program that mails one free book, every month, to children from birth to age five.
Previously, the program was available in eight Toledo-area zip codes and will now be available in all 13 zip codes.
Mom, Amber Connerton signed her little boy Liam up at the library and it’s been a success in their household.
“Every month the books came in, he just kept getting more and more excited about it and as soon as we get the books he just, he wants me to read them to him. He loves it,” she said.
Zip code 43605 in east Toledo is part of the expansion. There, Oakdale Elementary has a pre-K program. Since their students are already in the school at an earlier age, having another tool to advance their learning is a welcome addition.
They have a free library in front of the school providing books to the community for families to borrow, but know that a program like this will take that great idea to the next level.
Robert Yenrick, principal of Oakdale Elementary, grew up in east Toledo, as did TPS Superintendent Dr. Romules Durant. They are very proud of where they came from and Yenrick said he’s thrilled to offer this program to these families.
“It comes in with our philosophy here at Oakdale. We want to get books in kids hands, we want to make sure they have an opportunity to meet the goals and do all the things that Dr. Durant and I have had the opportunity to do being from the east side and coming home,” Yenrick said.
The Women’s Inititiative group of the United Way brought this international program to Toledo in 2015. Since then, the program has delivered over 142,000 books and served more than 7,100 children.
Dr. Romules Durant also expressed his excitement about the expansion saying, "Toledo Public Schools is committed to creating college and career ready students, and we know that begins with early literacy. We are grateful to the Women's Initiative of United Way for providing this opportunity to our students and families."
Meanwhile, enrollment is on the rise for TPS.
Studies show that reading with kids, as early as possible, leads to greater literacy and comprehension rates.
“We just hope folks will join in and sign in and take advantage of this opportunity because as we know that word imagination and the full name of the organization is the most important thing. We want to build the imagination and reading strength of our children," said Wendy Pestrue, CEO of the United Way of Greater Toledo.
It's estimated that in five years, 60 percent of all children within these 13 zip codes will be engaged in Imagination Library services.
Inspired by her father’s inability to read and write, Dolly started her Imagination Library in 1995 for the children within her home county. Today, her program spans four countries and mails over 1 million free books each month to children around the world.
To learn more about Imagination Library enrollment, simply dial 211 or instant message a 211 specialist online.
If you want to help, supporting a local child for an entire year costs as little as $25.