Good reading habits start early in the home of Highline Electric Association’s Jessie Heath.
“You can never have too many books for your kids,” said Heath, member services specialist at the co-op in Holyoke, Colorado, and mother of 15-month-old Harrison.
Harrison was 7 months old when Heath enrolled him in Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library (DPIL), a grassroots literacy program created by the country music star that mails one new, free book each month to any child 5 years old and younger. Nearly 2 million children in the United States and four other countries receive age-appropriate books, each with a personalized label and a message from Parton herself.
“The books are wonderful and not something we had duplicates of and most we haven’t seen before,” said Heath. “After I signed him up, I thought, I would love for everyone to have this opportunity.”
Through a new collaboration between Touchstone Energy® Cooperatives and DPIL, Heath’s co-op has done just that by helping launch an Imagination Library affiliate in eastern Colorado and advertise two existing affiliates in the region. Since the partnership began in July, about 60 Touchstone Energy co-ops, including Highline Electric Association, have launched new programs or are exploring how to start one suited for local communities.
“We’re hoping to roll this out across our territory over the course of several years,” said Heath.
Co-ops can participate in several ways. They can start a local chapter and run it themselves. Or, as in HEA’s case, co-ops can partner with local nonprofits and provide them seed money to cover the cost of books and shipping fees. Co-ops can also strengthen existing programs, of which there are about 2,100 worldwide.
It’s Touchstone Energy’s first Concern for Community initiative, and DPIL’s “turnkey” nature allows co-ops to customize programs in local communities, said Anne Harvey, Touchstone Energy’s director of member relations and communications.
“True engagement means members recognize their co-op is more than a monthly bill, and this book-gifting program is a meaningful way to add lasting value to members’ lives,” said Harvey.
The Dollywood Foundation, which administers DPIL, has found electric co-ops to be perfect partners in its literacy mission.
“It’s been a great opportunity because our mission and core values perfectly align with each other,” said Nora Briggs, an executive director at the foundation.
Since July, four Ohio co-ops and the statewide association began chapters in five counties with matching funds from the state’s Imagination Library. And because the state program covers all of Ohio’s 88 counties, co-ops will build relationships even with people they don’t serve, said Patrick Higgins, director of communications and member services at Ohio’s Electric Cooperatives.
“We’re involving members in the co-op at a very early stage in the game,” said Higgins, who’s worked with the Ohio co-ops to start local affiliates. “That’s a positive because you’re putting the co-op’s name out there and becoming a resource for the entire county, not just for your members.”
Some of Harrison Heath’s favorite books come from the Imagination Library, says his mother, who registered him through a local Rotary Club. “It’s so wonderful to have these board books that he can sit down and look at,” she said. “And I don’t have to worry about him destroying the books or eating the pages!”
Victoria A. Rocha is a staff writer at NRECA.