United Way of Bradley County’s Imagination Library is hosting a community celebration on Saturday, Nov. 9.
The event will be held at the Family Support Center gymnasium (old Blythe Avenue Elementary School), from 9 to 11 a.m., and will celebrate the program’s eighth year in Bradley County.
The event will feature story time for the children to have books read to them, and the Readmobile will also be on site to have other reading materials and activities for children. Each child will receive a free book.
The Ronald McDonald House Charities Caremobile will also be on hand to provide health services to sick children. The Caremobile is a United Way of Bradley County Health Endowment Fund partner.
Additionally, there will be booths set up for several community resource programs, free food and many other special activities.
The main goal of this event is to encourage early learning in the community, and this past year, 618 youngsters have graduated from the Imagination Library program by reaching the age of 5. The Imagination Library mails age-appropriate books to children who are registered for the program up to age 5, at no cost to the family.
However, organizers not only want to celebrate those children who have graduated from the program this year, but all who have graduated since it began locally in March 2005.
“We want to celebrate the 5-year-olds who have completed the program in 2013, but also want this to be a community event,” said Sarah Haratine, United Way of Bradley County AmeriCorps VISTA and coordinator of the event. Since 2005, 4,506 children have graduated through the program locally.
A second goal of this event is to register children not currently enrolled in the program to start getting books delivered to their homes.
The Imagination Library began in Sevier County in 1995, and originated from an idea by country music star Dolly Parton. She realized that children in her home county were behind in their reading skills due to a lack of early childhood materials, specifically books.
She funded the program, then helped create the Dollywood Foundation that works with others across the state of Tennessee, the nation and even internationally, to provide books to children under the age of 5. The program progressed so well that each county in Tennessee has an Imagination Library program.
“These books are very important in promoting an early love of learning in children while also giving them a sense of ownership pride since the books are mailed directly to the child, not the parent, grandparent or guardian,” Haratine said.
“I have heard stories of children running to the mailbox to get their book because they know it is their book, then running back into the house and beginning to read the book almost immediately,” she added.
Haratine noted that while some children are too young to read, when the books are read to the child it promotes bonding between the parent and the child.
“Some children end up reading the book to the parent, which not only makes the child proud but the mom or dad as well,” she said.
“This is free to the family, and we want everyone to attend, whether you are an Imagination Library graduate and their parents, someone who wants to learn more about the Imagination Library or learn more about resources available in our community,” Haratine said. “This is an event that is for everyone in Bradley County.
“We especially want to thank the Kiwanis Club of Cleveland and the Key Clubs at our local high schools for their partnership in this event, and the Family Support Center for allowing us to host the event there,” she said.
To find out more about the United Way of Bradley County’s Imagination Library or to sign up for the program, go to the United Way website (www.unitedwaybc.com/ImaginationLibrary) and click on the Our Partners tab, then the Imagination Library tab. Or, go to the Imagination Library Facebook page at www.facebook.com/BradleyCountyImaginationLibrary.