By Donna Hill
For the Fort Bend Star
Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library began when the country superstar wanted to help children in her hometown of Pigeon Forge, Tenn., where reading was virtually non-existent.
She created a love of books for preschool children by mailing a book to them each month, from birth to age five, sent directly to their homes.
Starting with only a few dozen books in 1995, her Imagination Library now mails over 80,000,000 books to children in the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom. Any community, group or individual can partner with her locally, and 1,600 affiliated local communities provide the Imagination Library books to over 1 million children each month.
One of those affiliated communities is in Fort Bend County. Enter Ivan Butterfield of Missouri City, who decided something needed to be done to stop illiteracy in his own backyard.
Butterfield started his affiliate through the Missouri City Rotary Club, with whom he has worked with for over 30 years. Initially his idea for literacy came from another charitable cause.
“The Rotary Club had been working on eradicating polio for nearly three decades and we are so close to finding a cure. When Rotary International asked us what else can we do that would have the same type of impact in the community, we felt literacy was the most obvious.
And they said OK, let’s do something to eradicate literacy and polio around the world.”
Rotary International eventually met with Parton at their convention in early 2000, and are now partnered with Imagination Library.
“That’s really when I started getting involved.” Butterfield said. “I went to my Rotary Club and asked if they could fund the initial program, and have the Rotary’s permission to create a partnership with Imagination Library. They said yes and in 2008, I set up an affiliate of the Imagination Library program.”
Like Parton, Butterfield believes that literacy starts at home.
“A parent is the first teacher,” he said.
Butterfield, who previously worked as the literacy coordinator for Rotary District 5890, is now fully involved with Imagination Library. He initially set up his affiliate quickly with support of Stafford Municipal School District.
“They helped us with getting us introduced to the primary schools in Stafford, plus coordinate programs with students, teachers and parents,” Butterfield said. “We were able to get the parents’ name and address, the child’s name and age. We then deliver a book a month until the child reaches 5 years old.”
How are the books chosen?
“Dolly and her educators at the organization review books,” Butterfield explained. “Around 60 books are chosen and divided by age appropriateness. She then buys the books in bulk, and mails those books to each child in the area.”
There are 14,000 children who have registered for books in Texas alone. Butterfield hopes there will soon be more.
“Surprisingly, the biggest portion of the book requests are down in the valley, such as North and South Cameron county. Twenty-five percent of the kids who receive books live in that area. Locally, we started with the Stafford ZIP Code area, which is 77477. When we found that we weren’t registering enough children, I asked the Rotary Club to extend the ZIP Code areas where we could do the most good.”
They added two other ZIP Codes in Missouri City, 77459 and 77489.
The Imagination Library headquarters covers enough of the upfront expenses to keep the books affordable for local affiliates. Butterfield points out that anyone can get involved, either organizations or individuals.
“If you are affiliated with a 501.c3 (nonprofit), you can do it. Affiliation helps with postal rates for sending out books,” he said.
He recently started the Butterfield Education Foundation, with the exclusive purpose of assisting other organizations to be able to start an affiliate program. To Butterfield, it’s totally unacceptable when a child can’t read.
“The money is available in our community. It’s simply a matter of getting people committed to do it. HEB has committed to our program, so has Walmart and the Women’s Club of Missouri City,” he said.
Butterfield is a strong advocate of education, books and better communities.
“If the books are in the home, the child will treat that book like a toy and get the parent to look at the book with them. The parent then starts reading to the child. Research shows us that a child who has been read to will come to school with a larger vocabulary, which he or she may not have without the influence of books.”
“If we want to have people in our community employable, then we need to make a foundation for learning, and keep children in school,” he said.
To think, it all starts with reading.
For more information, go to www.imaginationlibrary.com, or to start an affiliate, call Ivan Butterfield at 281-431-2254.