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Leap into fundraising
The Learning Center runs out of funds for free book program for kids
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Many Newton County children are feeling the effects of the economic pinch since The Learning Center had to cut their popular Dolly Parton Imagination Library program due to a lack of funds.

According to the center’s executive director, Mollie Melvin, roughly 1,200 children in the county up to the age of five were participating in the program which provided them with one age-appropriate book per month. In September, letters were finally sent out to participants, letting them know that funds were just not available to continue the program currently.

"That program is one of high value to us," said Melvin. "To provide that material to that many children costs about $30,000 a year or about $3,000 a month. We were struggling to provide the books for about three months before we finally had to cut the program. It is strictly due to the economy and we hope we can continue it in the near future."

Although the program itself is part of the Dolly Parton Foundation, local branches that offer the service must pay for the books, mailing, promotion and registration involved in the program. The foundation takes over and delivers the books to the home and manages the system that works in conjunction with Penguin Group USA to provide books to children.

In many homes, the books that come once a month are their only exposure to books in their home. According to statistics, what it done in terms of reading and exposure to the written word with children from birth to the age of five will determine their future in reading and can effect such things as school drop out rate.

"What children know about the alphabet when they enter kindergarten determines their school career," said Melvin. "Approximately 30 percent of our high school students leave school without their diploma, and the child of a high school drop out is twice as likely to drop out of school himself."

The Imagination Library is not the only program provided by The Learning Center, but it is the only one that has been cut. Grants provide the funding for many other ventures by the center, including the Young Readers Theatre; Ready, Set, School Clubs; Lovin’ Spoonfuls; Read It Again; and The Literacy Festival.

Georgia State University students working on their master’s in social work came upon The Learning Center program when looking for a community service project and have been working diligently to help Melvin and The Learning Center raise not only money, but awareness, for all their programs and their importance in Newton County.

"We all feel strongly about literacy as a gateway to so many other opportunities in life and we believed it was vital to bring the attention of the community to this cause," said Kirsten Hagman, one of the Masters students.

Hagman, along with fellow students Mia Chaplin and Natalie Hilliard, decided to focus on a small-dollar campaign to sell paper frogs (the center’s mascot) for $1 at area businesses and to provide donation boxes at other locations such as Mayfield Hardware and Luigi’s Pizza. Currently Squeeze Inn is selling the paper frogs. Customers can purchase a frog and write their names on it. The frogs are placed in the window of the popular eatery.

According to Melvin, every little bit donated helps the center immensely.

"It has been proven that the more books a child has in his home the higher his test scores," she said. "With the Imagination Library, every month a child would receive a book that would live with him. That makes a difference."

In Newton County, 6,000 families have been impacted by literacy education and programs since 2003. Over 3,500 books – new and gently used – were distributed in the county in 2007, approximately 400 families were reached through the 2008 Literacy Festival and, based on current trends, 6,000 children will be heading to kindergarten over the next five years ready to read due, in large part, to these programs provided to them free of charge.

For those interested in donating to The Learning Center, every little bit can help. They also take new or gently used books for elementary and younger aged children though they will also take middle school appropriate books as well. They provide books for the Health Department and Department of Family and Children Services waiting rooms and a number of non-profit after school programs.

Monetary donations are accepted as well through the mail at P.O. Box 399, Oxford 30054 or donations can be made through Paypal on the center’s Web site at Questions can be e-mailed to Melvin at or she can be reached by phone at (404) 314-2615.

"We have the ability to make a difference in family literacy behaviors and to shape what happens when they enter school but it all starts at birth."