A brand new book. Every month. Delivered.
For the 50 children in the YWCA Istrouma Early Head Start program on Winbourne Avenue, that’s what they’ll be getting at home each month for the next several years thanks to the Imagination Library announced Friday. The Imagination Library is an early literacy program started by singer Dolly Parton and it provides free books to children under the age of 5 each month.
This is the program’s first installment in East Baton Rouge Parish and it has the support of Women in Media, Capital Area United Way and the Glen ‘Big Baby’ Davis Foundation.
Karen Profita, Capital Area United Way president and CEO, said United Way previously brought the program to areas such as St. Helena and West Feliciana parishes, and the towns of Geismar and Donaldsonville. With the help of sponsors, these programs have already delivered 3,500 books.
She said in some homes there may only be a few books and those might not be accessible to young children.
“We had children show up to school who didn’t even know how to hold a book,” Profita said at a launch event Friday.
The local program at the Early Head Start program is a five-year commitment from the Women in Media, she said.
The YWCA Istrouma Early Head Start program serves children from infancy to 3 years old with a focus on children with adolescent parents, said Charlotte Provenza, Early Head Start director.
While national high school graduation rates for adolescent parents is at 30 percent, Provenza said they’ve had much better success in the past 15 years with graduation rates of 80 percent.
“Our job, really, is to keep you in high school,” Provenza said. With that the program offers early education for the young, parenting skills and several support services.
Not only do the children get a chance for education, the young parents also experience a transformation. There’s a hope for the future that can be seen on their faces, she said.
Lisa Patin, family advocate at the center, said the book program will help many youth.
“A lot of our parents are high school parents so getting to the library, there are transportation limitations,” Patin said. In addition, the families are living below the poverty line so buying books isn’t top of the list.
The program will also create excitement because the children will receive a packaged book at their home that is just for them, she said.
A second part of the program Friday involved 50 volunteers who went out to 22 day-care facilities in the 70805 ZIP code to read to young children. It’s part of a 10-year commitment Capital Area United Way has made to early education, Profita said.
One of those volunteer readers was Glen “Big Baby” Davis — a Baton Rouge native who played for LSU and is now with the NBA’s Boston Celtics.
Since his foundation also has an emphasis on literacy, it seemed a natural fit to get involved in this program.
“A program that could make a difference in a community that we need so much,” he said.