In a massive bid to support childhood literacy, Suncoast Credit Union has awarded a grant of $5,000 to United Way of Hernando County’s Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library. This early literacy initiative, as part of a national effort that provides children with a free book in the mail every month from birth through age 5 regardless of the family’s economic status, has gifted more than 150,000,000 books to children since country music superstar Dolly Parton launched the program in 1995. The program is funded through local affiliates in each state and county. Currently the United Way’s Imagination Library provides 1,000 books to enrolled Hernando County preschool children each month. Suncoast’s $5,000 grant will sponsor 192 local children on the program for one full year.
CEO of United Way of Hernando County Angie Walasek stated, “So often individuals take access to books for granted. This is an early literacy program that, regardless of a family’s economic status, size, etc., as long as they are Hernando County residents, will give each recipient a free book each month until kindergarten.” And furthermore, Walasek emphasizes that the Imagination Library selections are top quality reads. She stated, “This program gives kids access to quality, age appropriate books. United Way has hosted this program locally for 13 years.”
A United Way of Hernando County “Read to Me” parent survey found that 73 percent of locally enrolled Imagination Library children reported an enhanced love of reading; With the most popular library books including Parton’s own “I Am a Rainbow,” Anna Dewdney’s “Llama Llama Red Pajama,” and Jodi Dee’s “Ladybug Girl.”
This program is supported locally through UW fundraisers such as the United Way of Hernando County’s 7th Annual “KICK” Start to Early Literacy Kickball Tournament, which raised more funds this year than ever before. “We raised $22k. This is our most successful kickball tournament yet,” said Walasek.
USA Benefits in Spring Hill recently contributed $950 to the program through an office fundraiser. And overall, this is the 5th consecutive year Suncoast has awarded the United Way for their primary focus on Education for Youth and Community Support & Engagement. Executive Director of Suncoast Credit Union Foundation Cindy Helton voices her strong support for the Imagination Library program. Helton stated, “We started our relationship with the United Way in 2018 and to date have donated $25,000 to support the Imagination Library.”
Helton also stated that this program supports the philanthropic goals and mission of the credit union. “The Suncoast Credit Union Foundation’s mission is to improve the lives of children and the Imagination Library falls within those goals. Our mission is to strengthen communities through initiatives that truly work, and by building students’ literacy skills, we are giving them tools to navigate the world with confidence,” stated Helton.
And the more donations that are poured into this program, the more kids receive nurturing rays of sunshine in the form of free books. Walasek stated, “We send books to 1,000 children per month, at an expense of $24,000 a year. As children graduate from the program before kindergarten, we can reduce the waiting list and add even more.”
If you wish to sponsor a child on the Imagination Library program, please visit www.UnitedWayHernando.org/Support-Early-Literacy for more information.