At age 6 I fell in love with my first book.
It was “Little Black, A Pony” written by Walter Farley that stole my heart.
I was heartbroken when I had to return it to the library, despite my mother’s assurance that I could check it out again. I wanted desperately to keep that book.
Don’t you remember your first beloved book just as fondly?
Country Star Dolly Parton remembers her own longing for books, and it sparked a desire to get age-appropriate books into the hands of her home county’s preschoolers so that they could feel the magic that books can create.
In 1996, she launched “Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library” a local program for her east Tennessee home county which provided a book each month to every pre-school child. The brand-new books were mailed directly to their homes so that every child could have books, regardless of family income.
By 2000, the program had grown nationwide and beyond, reaching over 40 million books distributed for free and inspiring millions of children.
Locally, Wee Reed, a partnership with "Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library", launched in 2007.
But in Oconee County, there are currently more children eligible for the program than funds to serve them, said Nikki Wright, director of Oconee Preschool.
“We have 2,200 eligible children in Oconee County for the Wee Read program, but we only have funding to serve 400 of those children," she said.
Nikki is the leader for Oconee County’s Wee Read Team and is in the process of building a group of passionate people to work to build sponsors for the program so that every one of those 2,200 children can have books.
Already a successful program in Athens-Clarke, Nikki believes Oconee’s program holds just as much promise.
“Athens has more large corporate sponsors to help support their numbers of children,” Wright said. “We need Oconee businesses and individual citizens, including passionate moms, to step up and pledge to help build this program.”
Several fundraisers are already in the works, like Tuesday's , where 15 percent of all sales were donated to the Wee Read Program.
“All of the money raised in Oconee stays in Oconee”, Wright said. “Any administrative cost is underwritten by The United Way.”
She said the Oconee Rotary Club has been instrumental in building the program.
“Oconee’s Rotary Club has committed to helping us for a three year period on this project, and we really appreciate their long history of literacy programs for our community,” she said.
Past Oconee Rotary President J.P. Watson said the club became involved in 2009 when Tammy Gilland was president.
"We collaborated with others in the community and worked hard to get it off the ground. It has now grown beyond just a rotary program, but we continue to be involved financially," he said.
Rotary sponsored close to 150 children in the program last year, he said.
"We have multiple literacy programs including in the county for around 10 years and also digital readers for the library to loan out."
Oconee mom Christine Mills can’t say enough about the program.
“All of my children are enrolled," said the mother of three girls, ranging in age from 1 to 4. "It is precious. The girls love going to the mail box and pulling out new books. I even tuck the books away and bring them out as treats for the girls on rainy days.”
Wright said it costs $25 a year to provide one book per month per child.
“Each book encourages activities with the parents so that early literacy becomes a daily ritual,” she said.
If you are interested in contributing to the program or joining the Oconee Wee Read Team, contact Nikki Wright at 706-769-5437 or @oconeepreschool.com or Jeanine Russell at 706-543-5254 or firstname.lastname@example.org.