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Financial woes for local Imagination Library program

By Meredith Machen, mmachen@wcyb.com
Published On: Apr 11 2013 08:36:30 PM CDT
Updated On: Apr 11 2013 04:31:51 PM CDT
BRISTOL, Va. -

Free books promised to children go undelivered after a local Imagination Library stalls under financial strain.

Three-year-old Holden Lester and two-year-old brother, Everitt, have been getting a free book every month in the mail since they were infants.

Their mother, Suella Lester, said the Imagination Library program has her oldest in love with reading. "He begs us to take him to the library. He wants books all the time. We read daily, so it's been great," Lester told us.    

But since November, those books have stopped. "He kept saying, 'Mommy, why does that mailman not bring me books anymore?'" Lester added.

We found out the Imagination Library program for Bristol, Virginia and Washington County, Virginia hasn't been able to afford paying the $3,500 a month it takes to get books to the nearly 1,700 children in the system.

Dolly Parton started the program and even writes letters to children in her books, but one of the things you may not know is that she does not pay for it. The money to actually send a book comes from local agencies. "I think that's probably one of the biggest problems for all Imagination Libraries. You just automatically assume with the Dolly name that it's being paid for," said Jo Hutton, a board member for the Washington County/Bristol, Virginia Library and the director for Bristol Youth Services, the library's umbrella agency.

Hutton told us that unlike Tennessee's state partnership that funds up 50 percent of Imagination Library funds, Virginia agencies are on their own, and this past fall fundraising fell flat. "It's been difficult," said Hutton. "Grant money is getting more scarce, [and] competition is greater."

The program has stopped registering new children altogether, but we learned with new grant applications going out, books to children still in the registry will be back in the mail in May for at least eight months. "We're definitely still in the funding crunch of looking at long range and how to keep the program running," said Hutton.

The financial help must be anything but imaginary, and the program and parents alike hope this story has a happy ending. "We would love to see it get up and started again," said Lester.

If you're interested in donating time or money to the Washington County/Bristol, Virginia Imagination Library, you can contact Jo Hutton at Bristol Youth Services at (276) 645-7472.

You can send her an email at youth@bristolva.org.

You may also mail any contributions to:

Imagination Library

c/o Bristol Youth Services

220 Lee Street

Bristol, VA 24201