Valdosta Daily Times

Local News

September 14, 2011

Imagination Library: Project seeks funds to change more lives

VALDOSTA — Learning her 4-year-old daughter would receive a free Imagination Library book each month, Rebecca Williams was skeptical. Her expectations low.

“I thought it was probably going to be a paperback, flimsy, poorly made book,” Williams notes in a letter to the project’s South Georgia organizers. “... I was surprised when the books started coming and the quality, context and subject of the books were awesome.”

Williams’ daughter, Rhaniah Payne, is one of hundreds of Valdosta-Lowndes County children who has been served by the Imagination Library since its inception two years ago, says Dennis Marks of the Valdosta Rotary Club.

The Valdosta Rotary Club, Valdosta North Rotary Club and Valdosta Sunrise Rotary Club partner with the Ferst Foundation and Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library to bring books to children from birth to the age of 5 years old.

Among the children receiving books are 528 youngsters once funded by state money through the Department of Human Services. As of Aug. 31, $47,088 in state funding for the DHS portion of the project ended, Marks says.

To ensure these children continue receiving books through the end of 2011, organizers needed to raise $6,336. They raised $6,683.30 to ensure the Human Services children will still receive books through December.

Now, Marks hopes to raise an additional $19,008 by year’s end to ensure these children still receive their books through 2012.

In initiating the project, organizers have said they believe that early reading is important to individual children as well as to the entire community. Children who learn to read early often become avid learners in school, skillful workers on the job and informed citizens in the community, Marks says.

Contributors may donate money so any registered child receives the books; for example, giving money so the Department of Human Services children and others may receive their books. Or a contributor may enroll a specific child, such as a grandchild or youngster in one’s neighborhood to receive the books.

Private donations also fund books for many area children. The project’s ultimate goal would be for every child in Valdosta-Lowndes County to receive the books from birth to 5 years old.

For $36, a child will receive a book per month for a year. For $180, a child will receive a monthly book for the entire five years.

 Receiving Rebecca Williams’ letter bolstered organizers’ beliefs they are on the right track with the Imagination Library.

Rhaniah “started reading when she was 3,” Williams writes. “You know, sounds of the letters and small words, and when the books came in the mail, she was so excited because I told her this was her mail. Since she felt like it was her mail, it gave her a sense of importance and we had to read the books right away. A lot of times more than once.”

Visiting The Valdosta Daily Times offices, Rhaniah brought her favorite Imagination Library book so far: “Born Yesterday: The Diary of a (Young) Journalist.” Rhaniah says she loves all of the books she has received, but this one is her favorite.

The 4-year-old began receiving the books several months ago. Children can be enrolled at any age between birth and 5 years old. Rhaniah turns 5 this fall.

Rhaniah reads part of the book from memory. Rebecca Williams reads the books to her child often. Williams has even developed different voices for the books. She recently read the book aloud to Rhaniah’s pre-K class.

Rhaniah says she has come to love the books and plans to read many more books in the future. For now, she loves that her mother reads to her.

“You watch a mother reading to her child. You see the child learning and how a book brings them even closer together,” Marks says. “You realize the Imagination Library is bigger than three Rotary Clubs.”

It has the possibility, he adds, to change lives and communities.

To donate to the Imagination Library, make checks to the Valdosta Rotary Foundation, with Imagination Library in the memo line, to the Valdosta Rotary Foundation, P.O. Box 517, Valdosta, GA 31603. Or call Dr. Dennis Marks, (229) 630-8486; or email

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