Sunday, March 8, 2009

Dolly Parton Teams with Rotary International to Promote Early Childhood Reading

Ferst Foundation Expands Reading Program across Georgia as Model

Entertainment legend and philanthropist Dolly Parton announced a groundbreaking partnership Friday between her Dollywood Foundation and Rotary International to promote early childhood reading. The result of the partnership will be a statewide expansion of Georgia’s Ferst Foundation for Childhood Literacy. Preschool children in every county will one day receive age appropriate books to better prepare them for reading and learning success.

In an agreement approved by the leadership of Rotary International and the Dollywood Foundation, Rotary clubs in the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom will support the Dollywood Foundation’s Imagination Library program, which provides books to children from birth until they enter kindergarten. Through the joint leadership of all three Georgia Rotary District Governors, all Rotary clubs in the state will be encouraged to participate and raise funds for the Ferst Foundation in the expanded program.

Ms. Parton made the announcement Friday morning at the AmericasMart in downtown Atlanta. Rotary Foundation Trustee John Germ and the founder of the Ferst Foundation, Robin Ferst, among others, joined Ms. Parton on stage.

“We have dreamed of this day since we mailed our first books to children in Morgan County in 1999,” Ms. Ferst said. “We’ve strived to reach every child under the age of 5 in Georgia and now with Dolly’s support and the leadership of Rotary International we are finally within reach of that goal.”

Ms. Parton grew up in an underprivileged Tennessee community where many around her lacked the literacy skills she developed through her personal love of books. From that experience she started the Imagination Library, which includes 60 classic childhood books such as “The Little Engine That Could.” Ms. Parton’s foundation now sends 500,000 books each month to children at risk of falling behind their peers because they lack exposure to reading and age appropriate material at an early age.

Ms. Parton’s program has been an inspiration to many, including Ms. Ferst, a fourth generation philanthropist in Atlanta who created the Ferst Foundation for Childhood Literacy in 1999. Ms. Ferst’s goal is to emulate Ms. Parton’s Tennessee success in Georgia. Rotary clubs will help Ferst expand the Foundation’s presence in Georgia from 64 counties now (representing 42,000 books a month) to all 159 counties.

The Ferst Foundation encourages children to dream and learn through reading, promoting family involvement in achieving early school success for children.

“We are thrilled to have Dolly’s support and the support of Rotary International,” said Midtown Atlanta Rotary club’s president Barbara Rose. “We believe Georgia’s Rotary clubs are key to providing structured leadership across the state to ensure success. We now have the tools needed to break the cycle of illiteracy in Georgia. Our job as Rotarians is to elevate this issue to a new level of consciousness and activate our communities to address this often hidden menace.”

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