Happy Birthday to Dolly Parton, whose 74th birthday will be celebrated right here in Clay County. From 2-4 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 19, the community is invited to celebrate Dolly Parton’s Birthday Extravaganza at Ledford Chapel UMC. The free event will not only celebrate the legendary singer’s birthday, but it also celebrates the anniversary of the Dolly Parton Imagination Library in Clay County.
Almost six years ago, the Dolly Parton Imagination Library partnered with Matt's Ministry so Clay County preschoolers could receive free books delivered right to their mailboxes every month. The program kicked off at Hayesville Elementary School’s Read Across America in March 2014. In May that year, the first shipment of 145 books was sent to local children. Now, more than 400 of Clay County’s children receive books each month. By the time January 2020 ends, more than 24,000 free books will have been mailed for Clay County. Considering the county’s resident population is estimated to be about 10,500 people, that is a tremendous number of books.
The folks at Matt’s Ministry think that is even more reason to celebrate. Spokesperson Maggie Butler explained: “We wanted to do something for the children to build awareness of the program. Jan. 19 is Dolly’s birthday so that’s a good time.”
Butler and her daughters, Meredith and Sarah, went to the DPI homecoming this summer and learned what other affiliates are doing. The birthday celebration idea developed from there. “At the birthday party, there will be cake, ice cream, story time and a photo booth to have a picture made with Dolly,” Butler added. Depending on the weather, there may even be a bouncy house. Gifts are not required; however, canned fruit will be accepted for the Matt's Ministry Food Pantry for those who want to bring something.
Last year, Butler shared statistics from the local program. A survey sent by the Matt’s Ministry’s Imagination Library program indicated families are happy with the program. Of 51 survey respondents, 50 said they read more frequently with their children; 48 percent said they read at least one to two hours more per month; 30 percent said they read three to five hours more and 16 percent said they read more than five additional hours each month.
As an elementary school teacher, Butler knows the importance of reading. “Just hearing words read builds a child’s vocabulary and increases learning potential,” she said. “Just the act of reading a book builds a relationship between parents and children through touching and interaction. Kids don’t get that playing with electronic devices. All kids love getting something in the mail.”
Parton used her passion for books and reading to start Imagination Library in 1995. At first it was to benefit the preschool children of her home county in Tennessee by fostering a love of reading with a free book each month. It was later expanded to other areas of the country and world. As of December 2019, more than 130 million free books have been mailed to children in the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia and Canada.
Matt’s Ministry was started in the summer of 2013 by the members of Ledford Chapel United Methodist Church. The Hayesville church wanted to do something to honor Butler’s son, Matthew, who had died the previous year from complications of Lupus. The young church member was an avid reader who loved helping others. Matt’s Ministry’s vision to ensure Clay County kids had food at home on weekends and during the summer grew into a food pantry which later added the local branch of the Imagination Library.
Clay County children from infant to 5 years old may register for the free program. Age groups are divided in six categories and age-appropriate books are sent to participants to keep as their own library. In addition, children receive two bilingual books per year. Visit: www.Imaginationlibrary.com or get a brochure at Moss Memorial Library, the Clay County Health Department, Matt’s Ministry or at Dolly Parton’s Birthday Extravaganza. The birthday party will be at Ledford Chapel UMC, 78 Ledford Chapel Road, Hayesville.
While the party is free, the book program depends on donations to sustain it. A $25 donation will sponsor one child’s books every month for one year, but donations also help offset costs. To donate to the local program, send checks ℅ Maggie Butler, Matt’s Ministry, P.O. Box 205, Hayesville, NC 28904.
On the Imagination Library website Parton wrote, “When I was growing up in the hills of East Tennessee, I knew my dreams would come true. I know there are children in your community with their own dreams. They dream of becoming a doctor, an inventor or a minister. Who knows, maybe there is a little girl whose dream is to be a writer and singer. The seeds of these dreams are often found in books and the seeds you help plant in your community can grow across the world.”