By Christian Davis, M.Ed., CEO, Cincinnati Parent Empowerment Network (CPEN)
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Collectively the state of Ohio has worked tirelessly behind the scenes to ensure that Ohio children have access to a robust amount of FREE/ low-cost educational resources. Ohio families have advocated for those resources to start as early as possible to ensure that the love of learning can be fostered in children from birth on. Over the past three years, so many Ohio children have benefited from The Dolly Parton Imagination Library book gifting program, an opportunity that we as an entire state owe a special thanks to our First Lady Fran DeWine!
Cincinnati Parent Empowerment Network (CPEN), a parent-led organization made up of over 21,000 Ohio families, has witnessed first-hand the excitement that Ohio children have when their new monthly book arrives at their home. These books are changing the lives of so many children by helping families create their own personal in-home libraries. CPEN has used our social media platform to bring more awareness to this resource and has opened our doors to provide computers for families to sign up.
In our efforts to connect families to ongoing opportunities that foster early literacy, CPEN has strategically built partnerships with organizations that provide NEW or gently used books. Through those partnerships, CPEN has distributed more than 12,000 books to local families. In addition to our local libraries and book banks, CPEN has also served as an in-direct beneficiary of books funded through the Book-Rich Environments Initiative (BRE).
Book Rich Environment is a tri-sector collaboration between non-profit organizations, national government agencies, and corporate publishers that aim to infuse public housing communities across the country with a vibrant and accessible culture of books. CPEN has been integral in ensuring that local families who live in HUD-assisted housing across multiple Ohio counties receive high-quality, FREE, diverse books.
During our hunt to find more partners who advocate for early childhood literacy, we stumbled across FREE books being distributed to families at a local post office. Upon closer examination, we discovered that those books were from the Dolly Parton Imagination Library. When asked why these books were being distributed at the Post Office (verses being mailed), we were told the books were undeliverable due to there not being a valid forwarding address on file. As a result, many post offices are left with books that they are not able to return to the program or forward to the intended child. The postal workers at this location have decided not to discard the books (an unfortunate decision that many post offices make), but instead pass them out to families or organizations who are committed to ensuring they reach the hands of children. We applaud their decision to keep the books and forward them on to new families.
We are grateful for gaining access to these books, but we often find ourselves wondering just how many books are sitting in post offices across the state…or even worse...simply being discarded. Our work often takes us to the homes of families who reside in communities and rural counties that are experiencing a resource deficit. Several studies have shined a light on the fact that rural areas across our nation continue to struggle with a host of challenges regarding the lack of access to necessary resources. Rural counties across the state of Ohio still lack high-quality early childhood educational supports and childcare options, including Head Start programs, when compared to more progressive metropolitan counties. During each home visit to our families who reside in these areas, we are very intentional about bringing books. We realized early on that many of the children do not have access to books they could own, are reading below grade level, and often attended schools where they did not have consistent access to the educational supports they were entitled to.
We know that providing books to families who live in rural areas will not solve the bigger more complex root issue, but we do believe that it is a great start to bridging the gap and helping more Ohio children fall in love with reading.
If possible, CPEN would like to co-develop a solution that quickly places undeliverable Dolly Parton Imagination Library books in the hands of the child they were addressed to or to other children who could greatly benefit from them. We have staff and volunteers who have pledged to serve as weekly transportation couriers to connect more families to these books. We wanted to share our discovery so that we could collectively partner with individuals and organizations that can help ensure that books are no longer sitting in Ohio post offices, but are directly placed in the homes of children. We are committed to serving as transportation couriers for families in the following counties: Hamilton, Butler, Warren, Clermont, Preble, Brown, Adams, and Highland.
For more information about accessing these books, please contact us.