Teachers group, Imagination Library giving books to children

By Wayne Bryan Published September 9, 2012 at 12:00 a.m.
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PHOTO BY: Rusty Hubbard

Standing from the left, Dixie Smith, Elizabeth Waldrip, Charlie Cole Chaffin, Carolyn Hoggard and Diana McWilliams, and Mildred Westbrook, seated, look at some of the children’s books distributed by Imagination Library. The women are members of the Mu Chapter of Delta Kappa Gamma, an international organization for educators.

— Of course teachers like books, but the active and retired teachers in a Saline County organization have made a big effort to put books into the hands of children.

The 33 members of the Mu Chapter of Delta Kappa Gamma, an international organization for educators, have given funds that provide books to 626 youngsters in Saline County through the Imagination Library program.

Developed by county-music star Dolly Parton and her Dollywood Foundation, Imagination Library sends a book a month to children under 5 years old at no cost. All parents have to do is sign up their children, and they will receive the books until their 5th birthday.

The teachers’ organization, which they call DKG for short, has provided a big part of the funding for the program in Saline County. Erin Waller, director of the Saline County Library and one of the major organizers of the program in the county, said the local book program has raised about $20,000 since 2010. The women in Delta Kappa Gamma have contributed $3,820.

The largest part of those funds were from Delta Kappa Gamma International, said Carolyn Hoggard, treasurer of the DKG Chapter and a retired elementary-school teacher in Benton.

“We asked for a grant from the educational foundation of Delta Kappa Gamma and donated $3,000 to the chapter, and we gave it to the Imagination Library,” she said. “This could cover the entire cost of the program for about two months.”

The additional funds raised by the chapter included direct donations from members.

Each year, the chapter takes on a service project, and for more than a year now, the group has worked to aid Imagination Library.

“We saw an article in the Tri-Lakes Edition,” Hoggard said. “We were there for the kickoff in September of 2011 when first lady Ginger Beebe read to children.”

Beebe came to Bryant for the celebration of the beginning of the literacy program.

The program started for children in the Bryant city limits, but then expanded to cover the area served by the Bryant School District. The Saline County Library then got involved, and the program became countywide.

Estimates are that there are around 6,200 children in Saline County who could be receiving the free books.

“With 626 children signed up, that’s right at 10 percent of the children, and the people at Imagination Library tell us that is about right for the first year of the program,” Waller said. “We are not worried about the numbers. As the program continues, more people will be signing up.”

Saline County patents or grandparents can sign up children by filling out forms at the Saline County Library locations in Benton and Bryant and online at www.imaginationlibrary.com.

DKG member Darlene Emmons, who retired last year from Benton Harmony Grove High School, said she likes Imagination Library as a project for the club. She also likes a program that offers funds for women staying at a crisis center to use to purchase books at a local used bookstore.

“I don’t like elitism,” Emmons said, “so I like the blanket help of some of the projects.”

Dixie Smith, a retired teacher living in Haskell, said the club has provided “huggables” — teddy bears and other plush animals the women collected and gave to deputies of the Saline County Sheriff’s Office to give to children who were being picked up and placed in foster homes.

Other projects have included fire-safety materials that were given to the Benton Fire Department for school programs.

Diana McWilliams, president of the chapter and a retired teacher from Bauxite, said club members have also acted as mentors for young teachers who are early in their careers.

“The purpose is to be a support group and help them stay in teaching,” McWilliams said. “We want them to know that someone is there to offer some advice if they need it.”

The DKG will be involved in the annual Reindeer Run later this year. It is a series of races for youngsters and adults that provides funds for Imagination Library.

“This year, it will be a Grinch Run, with the Grinch chasing the adult runners, and then the kids will chase the Grinch,” McWilliams said.

The cost of the Imagination Library program to provide books is about $30 a child, said Patti Bokony, one of the original organizers of the Saline County program, when the group first began to register children for the books.

While the program might not be the major focus for the teachers and former teachers of DKG, Hoggard said some of the members will continue with their contributions.

“I know the ones with grandchildren will keep giving,” she said.

Staff writer Wayne Bryan can be reached at (501) 244-4460 or wbryan@arkansasonline.com.

Tri-Lakes Edition Writer Wayne Bryan can be reached at 501-244-4460 or wbryan@arkansasonline.com.

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