Man reading a book to a child

Celebrating 10 Years of Reading Opportunities For Children In Central New York

What started as a small seed blossomed into thousands of children and families around the county now practicing early literacy lessons.

Reading can be a fundamental tool to prepare and accelerate a child’s academic performance. That’s why the Literacy Coalition of Onondaga County (LCOC) brought Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library (DPIL) to Central New York in May 2010. What started as a small seed blossomed into thousands of children and families around the county now practicing early literacy lessons.

When families register their children for the program launched by Dolly Parton in 1995, each child receives a new, age-appropriate book, sent directly to their home each month until their fifth birthday. This marks the 10th year of LCOC providing DPIL books to children in Onondaga County at no cost to them.

“It amazes me every day how many children we’ve been able to reach in the span of ten years,” said Kim Kemp, early childhood program director at LCOC. “We’re so proud to offer this program to families free of charge to ensure all children, no matter their circumstances, have the same literary resources.”

Since the program’s launch in May of 2010, nearly 900,000 books have been received by children in the community, and close to 14,000 children have graduated from the program.

According to Beyond School Walls, in the United States, more than 60% of low-income families have no children’s books in their homes. This signals a significant loss in early learning because reading to a child several times a day strengthens their reading and cognitive skills.

“Child comprehension and understanding are developed through exposure to literature at an early age,” said Kemp. “A parent reading with their child strengthens the bond between them. It was crucial for us to get books into the hands of all children in our community.”

In 2014, DPIL expanded to the city’s west-side and shortly thereafter, was expanded city-wide. In May of 2016, the program had reached all children under the age of five in Onondaga County.

A 2016 study led by Le Moyne College faculty members, including the Community Foundation’s Vice President for Community Investment, Frank Ridzi, PhD., found that children who are consistently enrolled in DPIL were better prepared to enter kindergarten than their non-participating peers by a factor of nearly 30%. The study also found that only 20% of Onondaga County children were ready and prepared for kindergarten when they entered school.

“Children who enter school already behind will experience even harder times trying to catch up with their peers,” said Kemp. “Parents who consistently expose their children to literature pre-kindergarten through 3rd grade are establishing a child who can succeed academically.”

Through the COVID-19 pandemic, all DPIL partners have been operating at full capacity, allowing over 15,500 children in Onondaga County to receive their monthly books on time.

“In the light of the pandemic, it is more important than ever to strengthen and nurture the bond with your child through sitting down and reading with them,” said Kemp. “We are not slowing down and plan to continue expanding to reach more children every day.”

To learn more about the Imagination Library in Onondaga County, please visit https://onliteracy.org/about-imagination-library/.

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