Dolly Parton is expanding her Imagination Library project. The Imagination Library gifts books free of charge to children from birth to age five. The funding is shared by Dolly Parton and local community partners in the United States, Canada, United Kingdom, Australia and Republic of Ireland. Childhood literacy is crucial for the next generation to thrive in school and be prepared for productive lives as adults.

Parton’s philanthropic gestures are well-known. Most recently, her generous donations to Vanderbilt University helped scientists develop a vaccine for COVID-19. Imagination Library began in 1995 in her home county in East Tennessee. It grew from there. According to the website, a total of 2,210,311 kids have been registered in the program and a total of 190,859,995 books have been gifted to children. This week a new county in Oklahoma was added to the program.

In the latest expansion of Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library for the Sooner state, children in the state’s largest county and school district are now eligible to receive free books from birth through age five.

For the second time in two months, Parton’s program is expanding in Oklahoma. In September, children of families served by the Pioneer Library System gained access to the program.

In May, State Superintendent of Public Instruction Joy Hofmeister committed to statewide access and coverage through the program, making Oklahoma the 12th state to do so. Hofmeister announced a plan for investing $2.5 million in federal pandemic relief funds to expand to all 77 counties in Oklahoma.

The latest expansion of the project extends access to families with children under the age of five “who reside either full-time or part-time at an address within Oklahoma County.” Parents can register their children to receive one free book per month, by mail, until their fifth birthday.

It comes as a partnership between the Metropolitan Library System, Oklahoma City Public Schools and the state.

“When we have stronger readers, we have stronger students. Stronger students have greater outcomes,” said Larry White, Metropolitan Library System executive director at an event announcing the expansion.

I’ll note here that if the name Joy Hofmeister sounds familiar, it’s because she was a Republican and now a Democrat who changed parties to run against the incumbent Republican Governor Kevin Stitt. It’s a surprise sleeper race this midterm election cycle.

The Watertown, South Dakota area is celebrating twenty years of Imagination Library in their community this week.

The Watertown Area United Way partners with the Imagination Library to ensure local youth can have a great selection of books at home and in their local library’s selection.

The United Way and Watertown Regional Library have provided area children with Imagination Library books for two decades now. Annually, the program costs about $20,000. Women and Giving, =Watertown Area Community Foundation, Dollar General’s Literacy Foundation and United Way donations help raise the necessary money, but contributions are also accepted from the public.

The importance of developing a love of reading cannot be overstated. This project gives books to children who may not otherwise have them in their homes. The recent reports of how terribly school-aged children were harmed by online learning mandates during the pandemic is now reflected in the test scores of fourth and eighth graders. Once a child falls behind, it takes a long time to catch back up, if ever.

Dolly Parton’s life story is a true American success story. Now, at the age of 75 she has decided to stop touring and limit herself to the occasional festival weekend or special shows here and there.

“I do not think I will ever tour again, but I do know I’ll do special shows here and there, now and then. Maybe do a long weekend of shows, or just a few shows at a festival. But I have no intention of going on a full-blown tour anymore,” Parton told the outlet. (Billboard has independently confirmed the news.)

Parton’s most recent tour was her 2016 Pure & Simple Tour, which included 60 shows in the United States and Canada.

“I’ve done that my whole life, and it takes so much time and energy,” she added. “I like to stay a little closer to home with my husband [Carl Dean]. We’re getting older now, and I don’t want to be gone for four or five weeks at a time. Something could happen. I would not feel right about that, if I were gone and somebody needed me. Or I would feel bad if I had to leave a tour if somebody got sick at home and needed me and then I had to walk out on the fans.”

Now Dolly is planning on doing a rock album.

Last year, Parton told Billboard she was planning to work on a rock album, after news came that she was nominated for induction into the Rock Hall.

In her new Pollstar interview, she says she is working on the rock album, and that she plans to re-record “Stairway to Heaven,” the Led Zeppelin classic that Parton recorded in a bluegrass-inspired arrangement as part of her 2002 album Halos & Horns, part of her bluegrass trilogy of albums.

”But I’m going to redo that really on the money,” she told Pollstar. “I did it kind of bluegrass-style when I did it; but when I do the rock album, I’m going to actually re-record it – and do it more true to the regular record. I’m trying to see if Robert Plant might sing on it. Maybe Jimmy Page might do the pick-up part on it. I’m looking forward to dragging in some of the great classic people, girls and boys, to sing on some of the songs. I’m not far enough along to discuss who and what, but I am going to do an album.”

Dolly Parton’s story is enough to make anyone smile on a Friday after a long week of less than great news stories. May she live for many more years and keep up her generous good works.

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