NEW ALBANY — We all have seen or heard the statistics concerning drug use among our youth. The numbers are disturbing and at times it seems like we are losing an entire generation to drug abuse.

But there are also plenty of positive numbers to celebrate, like the ones associated with Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library of Floyd County. The program is under the umbrella of the New Albany-Floyd County Education Foundation. Since the program began in Floyd County in 2009, 396,163 books have been given to 14,548 children, who begin their school career better prepared for being part of the program.

Becky King, director of the Floyd County program, said students who are read to and have access to books at a young age are able to recognize letters and sounds earlier, two key components to learning to read.

She said since the launch in 2009, the goals of Imagination Library have remained constant:

• Prepare children to enter school ready to learn, specifically targeting early reading skills;

• Provide support to parents through materials, guidance and encouragement; and

• Create awareness among community members of the importance of early literacy skills and expand partnerships in support of this effort.

The program is open to all Floyd County children under the age of 5, no matter income.

It's a simple process. All that is needed is the child's name, address and age, and each month a book will be mailed, free of charge, to that child.

"The whole idea is to get books in the hands of all children," King said. She added that the book comes in the mail with the child's name on it.

This year, the monthly average enrollment into the program is nearly 3,700 children, which is more than 80 percent of the eligible participants. Floyd County is above the national average of around 70 percent.

Currently, when a child is born at Baptist Health Floyd, he/she is automatically registered for the program. Parents have the opportunity to sign up their child at other events, too, or they can simply call 812-542-4001 or go online to imaginationlibrary.com.

King said the schools, Floyd County Public Library, Baptist Health Floyd, Head Start, preschool and child care providers, community businesses, civic organizations and public agencies all have contributed to the success of the program. Some have registered children or promoted enrollment while others contribute funding or volunteer at events.

"Imagination Library of Floyd County is truly a community program," she said.

Floyd County Imagination Library will be celebrating its 10th birthday during Harvest Homecoming's Kids Day in the Tent on Saturday from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Bicentennial Park. There will be book giveaways, crafts and of course, birthday cupcakes.

The program would not be possible without generous community donors, King said, from organizations to individuals. The Horseshoe Foundation of Floyd County was on the ground floor, getting the program started 10 years ago with a $75,000 donation, and it has been helping fund the program every year since. Horseshoe funding has grown to a total of $495,000.

Jerry Finn, executive director of the Horseshoe Foundation, said the idea came from Harrison County. He said the Harrison County Community Foundation was funding its program and the Horseshoe board "liked what we saw." The Imagination Library started in Floyd County under the umbrella of Community Alliances to Promote Education.

"We wanted to do that in Floyd County," Finn said. "We provided the initial funding and made it happen. We got the Education Foundation on board and Becky King and it has just grown. It has become a community initiative."

As more children are registered, more funding is needed to purchase the books. Metro United Way, PNC and Samtec along with other organizations and individuals have helped with funding.

The program's annual book budget is $96,000, so it takes several partners to make that happen, King said. But both King and Finn said there is no better investment than getting books into the hands of children.

"We have blown the [national Imagination Library] stats out of the water since day one," Finn said of participation. "We have several folks out in the community making sure kids get registered. This program makes a difference. Anything we [Horseshoe Foundation] can do to make Floyd County residents successful is something we are interested in. We have to get them early and this is a really good program."

Chris Morris is an assistant editor at the News and Tribune. Contact him via email at chris.morris@newsandtribune.com. Follow him on Twitter: @NAT_ChrisM.

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