Taking our first steps towards helping kids ReadLearnSucceed
Last Thursday the first Australian child signed up to Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library; the creation of country music sensation, Dolly Parton, and the cornerstone for United Way Australia’s early literacy strategy, ReadLearnSucceed.
Charlie was one of eight children from Acacia Ridge (about 25km from the Brisbane CBD) who signed up for the program on the day. This small, but momentous, step was the result of eighteen months of brainstorming, planning, researching, and phone conferencing across United Ways throughout Australia (and, at times, the United States).
Dolly Parton developed the Imagination Library after initiating a free book distribution program in her hometown, Sevier County, Tennessee, in 1996. Today, the Imagination Library, with the support of the Dollywood Foundation, is working across the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom to foster a love of reading and to improve literacy for children between the ages of birth and five years.
When United Way Australia was presented with the opportunity to take a lead from our North American counterparts and present the Imagination Library in communities across Australia, we started working on a plan; the first step, three pilots with one each in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane. In Brisbane, we were very lucky to receive a substantial grant from the Sunnybank Community & Sports Centre. When they asked us how we could support a disadvantaged community in their area, we looked to Acacia Ridge – a community that stood to benefit a great deal from United Way Australia’s Read Learn Succeed strategy.
75% of five year olds in Acacia Ridge are developmentally vulnerable or developmentally at risk when it comes to literacy – this means that the vast majority of children are starting school well behind where they should be. Over the past six months, we have been meeting with educators, children, residents and parents from Acacia Ridge. This statistic is well known in the community and there is a great sense of solidarity when it comes to working out how to help these children start day one at school at their full potential.
The community is not deterred by this statistic –there is a promising sentiment of determination and a great energy among community organisations, including The Benevolent Society and several local Kindergartens and childcare centres who have all provided invaluable contacts and support for the program launch.
From the middle of this year, Acacia Ridge’s youngest generation will start receiving a Penguin classic book with their name on it in the post, every month until they are 5 years old. This will include many favourites, among them several Pamela Allen books and other well known titles including Mem Fox & Judy Horacek’s ‘Where is the Green Sheep?’ and Eric Carle’s ‘The Very Hungry Caterpillar’.
Alongside Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library, United Way Australia will be running community reading events and providing parents, families and other interested community members with the tools they need to be positive reading role models and specifically use these books to give the young children in their lives the best start possible.