Nonprofit aims to register all Wayne County kids for free books

Leaders of an organization providing free books to preschoolers are “really excited” about a new possibility of partial state funding.

Every Child Can Read (ECCR) has provided no-cost books to more than 5,300 Wayne County children since 2014.

The Richmond-based nonprofit has more than doubled the number of preschoolers it has served since the end of 2018.

Half of Wayne County’s approximately 4,000 children ages 0 to 5 receive a book mailed monthly to their home through Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library. All the county’s children are eligible, regardless of family income.

Although the music legend’s nonprofit coordinates book distribution, ECCR pays approximately $25 per child per year for the service.

Indiana lawmakers are considering Senate Bill 340 that would make all Hoosier kids younger than 5 eligible for Imagination Library. State Sen. Jeff Raatz (R-Richmond) is one of the bill’s authors.

The state library would administer the program, rather than rely on local affiliates such as ECCR to organize and fully fund the program for their county.

Many states sponsoring Imagination Library provide half of the required funding, and local affiliates raise the remainder. The current bill indicates Indiana would follow that pattern.

ECCR currently spends $58,000 each year to mail books to Wayne County’s participants.

ECCR staff member Jackie Scott oversees Imagination Library as part of her duties as K-Ready program coordinator. The organization aims to prepare the county’s youngest residents for kindergarten and make sure they can read proficiently by third grade.

Scott said mailing the books is beneficial for several reasons. Kids enjoy getting mail, adding to their excitement about books. And, their families might struggle to regularly visit libraries because of scheduling, transportation difficulties or being focused on providing basic needs.

“It’s definitely a win-win situation,” Scott said of the ongoing home deliveries.

ECCR is “blessed” to have residents who’ve believed in Imagination Library’s mission and donated over the past decade, but state support would be a “big relief,” Scott said.

If ECCR could focus on growing its Imagination Library program and maintaining current fundraising, Scott believes they could be much closer to registering all Wayne County children for free books.

Ohio began offering the program statewide about a year ago, Scott said, and now has more than 40 percent of eligible children enrolled.

Without similar financial support, about 14 percent of Hoosier kids are currently enrolled in Imagination Library. To sign up, Indiana kids must live in a county that has a sponsor. Neighboring Fayette County isn’t a participant.

“There’s a lot of room to grow the program,” Scott said.

After an early surge in enrollment, Wayne County’s Imagination Library enrollment has stabilized as children age out. More than 2,100 local kids have graduated upon turning 5.

Since 2020, ECCR has enrolled all Wayne County babies born at Reid Health, including babies who live in surrounding counties where Imagination Library is available.

ECCR staff set up displays at various community events and continually look for other avenues where they can find the county’s remaining unserved children.

In 2022, ECCR distributed a total of 35,469 books to children through Imagination Library and its other outreach efforts. Those include Rx for Reading at primary care well-child visits, the summer Bookmobile, Wayne County preschools and daycares, and Books at Birth.

Each summer, ECCR distributes a library to each participant of its The Reading Academy (previously called Third Grade Academy). In 2022, 150 second- and third-graders received an intensive month of instruction and social-emotional lessons that aimed to cultivate their love of reading.

ECCR also has started offering school-year tutoring at Boys & Girls Clubs of Wayne County and Girls Inc.

Within the last year, ECCR has added former Richmond Community Schools teacher Jennifer Wesler to its staff. She focuses on programming for grades K-3, such as helping local schools with literacy nights, testing and improving communication about Reading Academy with area teachers.

By the numbers

As of January, about half of Wayne County’s approximately 4,000 children ages 0 to 5 are registered in Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library. A free book is mailed to their home monthly.

Families can register at

Nearly 200 million books have been given to 2.3 million kids so far.

Here’s local enrollment by town:

  • RICHMOND: 1,428
  • ECONOMY: 26
  • DUBLIN: 22
  • PERSHING: 10
  • MILTON: 7
  • WEBSTER: 6
  • BOSTON: 4
Share this:

Millicent Martin Emery is a reporter and editor for the Western Wayne News.