Imagination Library nets free books

Kelly Poe, above left, assists members of the public seeking information about Imagination Library, a program launched by the famed Dolly Parton that aims to introduce kids to books prior to kindergarten. Poe took part in the first annual Weiser School District Federal Programs open house held on Jan. 22. The open house was free to the public and intended to provide information on assistance programs offered through the school district and other organizations within the community as a kind of clearing house of available services and resources. Photo by Philip A. Janquart
Philip A. Janquart
Weiser FFA Chapter Reporter
If you live in Washington County, you can get free books for your children under five-years-old.
 Launched in 1995, Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library is a book gifting program that mails free, “high quality” books to kids from birth to age five.
 The program had its beginnings in Sevier County, Tenn. where the famed singer-songwriter, actress, and philanthropist grew up amid impoverished conditions.
 “Dolly’s father was illiterate, so she understands how important it is to be able to read,” said local Imagination Library volunteer administrator, Kelly Poe.
 Kelly retired as the Director of Early Learning at Malheur Education Service District in December. She has been an advocate for children and families for over 20 years.  
 She is now leading an effort to expand the opportunity of free books to all children under the age of five. She believes the program promotes family bonding, literacy, and a foundation for our future workforce. 
 “Registration opened up in December 2022 and the kids in Washington County received their first books in February 2023,” Poe explained, noting that the program has been well received thus far. “The number of children signed up is 174. That’s a lot. That’s over 30 percent of the children under 5.”
 Poe said the goal is to sign up 50 percent of the total eligible population – “eligible” meaning children who live within the county and are under the age of five.
 “And the number of kids that qualify (in the county) is 540 children,” she said. “We have 25 children who were in the program, but then they turned five and aged out, so that’s 199 kids that we served. 
 “We are pretty lucky to have the program in our three counties (Washington, Payette, Malheur). I’d like to see it go statewide in Idaho; I want to see all kids in Idaho have access to free books until their fifth birthday.”
 Poe said that reading is the foundation for all future learning and that the sooner you get kids reading, the better off they are going to be, not only in their educational experiences, but in every facet of life.
 “It’s 100 percent true,” she said. “You need to be able to read to do anything and everything – in order to drive, to work in a warehouse.
 “I mean, I can’t think of a single occupation where reading isn’t essential. This program fosters family reading time, love for books, and it builds a stronger workforce in the years to come, helping kids entering kindergarten to be ready to learn.”
 Each kid that is signed up receives a new book every month at no cost. There is a cost, however, to the program, at about $2.20 per book or roughly $26 per year, per child.
 There are about 1,700 kids signed up for the program in Washington, Payette and Malheur counties, which comes to about $3,600 per month. Malheur County has some local and state supporters. Payette County is supported by a few businesses and individuals. Kelly is looking for support for Washington County.
 In Washington County, that first bill came to about $120 for books delivered in February 2023. The current monthly bill is around $350-$400 with a budget hovering around $7,000 for the upcoming year. 
 Poe said she needs donors willing to contribute to the cost of the program to keep it going.
 “This is really a community supported project and Dollywood Foundation pays for the majority of the program, but they want local communities to own the programs, so the cost for us, as a community, is $26 per child, per year,” she said. “Right now, I have a couple donors, but we need more. I’m writing two grants right now to support Washington County, but I want people to know that they could sponsor a child for $26, or sponsor several children, or maybe they would like to make a monthly donation … so we have ongoing, sustainable funding to make sure that we never have to discontinue this program.”
 For more information, call Kelly Poe at (208) 230-0648, or visit


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