Does the Dolly Parton Free Kids’ Books Program have a Future in North Dakota?

Local News

For over a decade, Missouri Slope United Way has funded a program that gives out thousands of free books to kids across central and western North Dakota.

Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library program existed out in Fargo for nearly two decades, but as of this year, they can’t take in any new members.

Are our region’s kids are in jeopardy of losing their monthly books?

Bismarck’s United Way took on Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library program back in 2009. To date, the Executive Director in the capital city said 400,014 books have been read across 12 counties.

“Kids in the program receive a free book in the mail every single month, delivered to their home until they’re 5 years old,” said Executive Director Jena Gullo.

She said over 4,000 preschoolers are benefitting right now.

Caitlin Ryckman used to be one of those kids, but the habit has stuck with her at 7 years old.

“You just get all these happy books and they’re really good….like this one was really good,” Caitlin said holding up the book Corduroy.

“The program really helped build her curiosity about books,” shared Caitlin’s mom, Sara Ryckman.

She said it’s provided an equal opportunity for Caitlin, and for all kids.

“It gets those books in the hands of kids who might not have the advantage of getting books,” Sara added.

Which is all a part of United Way’s mission to break the poverty cycle.

“We really need to get kids loving books, and if they’re not reading proficiently by grade 4, kids are four times more likely to drop out of school later in life,” Gullo explained.

Bismarck’s United Way isn’t planning on stopping the program, but Gullo said they are low on funding this year, by about $25,000.

“We have to pay for the shipping and handling for all of the books. Well, it’s $25 per child, per year. Those are the funds we need to raise to keep the program here in the Bismarck-Mandan and surrounding communities,” Gullo shared.

Sara added, “There is no discrimination when it comes to income with this program. I would say the only thing is if you have a family that could support that $25 to help United Way out because there are so many other families that can’t afford that.”

Gullo said that’s the answer to keeping it going for years to come.

And Caitlin concluded, “They say we’ve only discovered 25 percent of our brain, so I feel like just reading could unlock all the mysteries.”

Souris Valley United Way in Minot also has the Dolly Parton Progam. A representative told said it’s still going strong.

Click here if you’d like to join the program or sponsor a child in need.

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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