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United Way Announces Launch of Imagination Library

United Way Announces Initiative to Offer Free Books to All Children Under Five in Erie County

Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library provides high-quality book each month

ERIE, PA (May 16, 2013) - United Way of Erie County today announced the arrival of the Dolly Parton Imagination Library in Erie County. This game-changing initiative will provide a free, high-quality, age-appropriate book each month to all children enrolled in the program. It is designed to dramatically increase literacy rates and is open to all children in Erie County under the age of five, regardless of household income.

“The Imagination Library has the potential to rewrite our community’s story,” said Bill Jackson, president of United Way of Erie County. “It has achieved stunning results in communities around the world. We couldn’t be more excited to bring this initiative to Erie County.”

The Dolly Parton Imagination Library was created by recording artist Dolly Parton in 1996 to ensure that every child would have access to quality books, regardless of income. It currently provides books to nearly 700,000 children in almost 2,000 local communities across three countries. Age-appropriate books, selected by a blue ribbon panel of experts, are mailed in a child’s name to his/her home each month from the time of birth until the child turns five years of age.

While the program is free to all families involved, there is a significant cost to operate it. United Way of Erie County has partnered with The Erie Community Foundation to bring the Imagination Library to Erie County. Through its Shaping Tomorrow grant, The Erie Community Foundation has committed $250,000 to the Imagination Library over five years.

“The Erie Community Foundation Board of Trustees and our Grants Review Panels felt the project met our mission and also addressed two key Vital Sign indicators: PreK-12 Education and Community and Civic Engagement,” said Michael L. Batchelor, president of The Erie Community Foundation. “The Dolly Parton Imagination Library will help children with educational achievement as measured by standardized tests and will help families by encouraging one-on-one time and reading in the home.”

The Imagination Library has produced remarkable results in other communities. Nearly 75% of families involved in it read more to their children after joining the program. In one community, the percentage of parents who do not read with their children dropped from nearly 12% to just 1%.

United Way also announced a Reading Buddy program that will begin in the next few months. This program will work with parents and other family members to emphasize the importance of reading and to demonstrate and guide families members in how to effectively read with their children and build on the reading experiences to maximize the effects of the Imagination Library. Dr. Julie Wollman, president of Edinboro University, is chairing United Way’s Volunteer Engagement Cabinet that will oversee the Reading Buddy program.

“Reading to young children is the most effective way to increase their intellectual capacity and the results affect their entire lives,” said Dr. Wollman. “Children’s brains develop most rapidly between birth and age five. This is when we can lay the foundation for a lifetime of learning and foster the desire and readiness to learn that result in long term success. It is vital that children are proficient at reading by third grade if we want to prevent them from falling behind and staying behind for the rest of their lives.”

The Imagination Library is open to all children in Erie County under the age of five. To sign up, parents or caregivers need only to submit an official registration form to United Way of Erie County. Forms are available at many local libraries, child care centers, community centers and businesses, and are also available online at

In addition to The Erie Community Foundation, several other local businesses have already committed to funding the Imagination Library. These include PNC Bank, First Niagara Bank, Erie Insurance and several anonymous donors. Additionally, United Way of Erie County will be holding a special, one-time-only fundraiser on Saturday, October 19 at the Bayfront Convention Center to benefit the Imagination Library. Tickets are $150 each. Individuals should contact United Way of Erie County at 814-456-2937 for tickets and sponsorship information.

About United Way of Erie County:
United Way is a leader in reducing poverty in Erie County by creating opportunities in the building blocks for good life: Education, Income and Health. United Way is directing its resources to reduce poverty in Erie County by 2025. Additional information about United Way of Erie County and its programs and initiatives can be found at

About The Erie Community Foundation:
The Erie Community Foundation works to improve the quality of life in our region by evaluating and addressing community issues, by promoting responsible philanthropy and by connecting donors to the critical needs of the community. To learn more visit,