Denise and Scott Briggs bring Imagination Library to Western PA

Published Jan 9, 2013 at 2:52 pm (Updated Jan 9, 2013 at 2:52 pm)

Two-year-old Mira White and her cousins could probably recite every word of “The Little Engine that Could” and “Llama, Llama Red Pajama,” because nearly every night, when their parents tuck them into bed, it is those stories and a few other favorites they choose to read.

The now-tattered pages of their favorite storybooks are extra special to them and their parents, because they were gifts from a local couple on a mission to make a difference in the lives of children – one book at a time.

Denise and Scott Briggs of Washington serve as community champions for the Dollywood Foundation’s Imagination Library, a Tennessee-based organization started in 1995 by Dolly Parton to provide children up to 5 years old with a home library at no cost to their family. The Imagination Library originally was designed to get books into the homes of impoverished children in the Tennessee area. Soon after its inception, however, other communities took an interest and a replication model began. Today, there are 647,250 children registered in the program in three countries, with 619,000 of them in the United States.

During a summer trip to Dollywood, Denise and Scott Briggs, who had two grown children, were considering tackling a community-related project when they saw information about the Imagination Library. They thought it was a program limited to Tennessee until they read an article in Reader’s Digest shortly thereafter about a couple from New York who had started the program in their community.

“The fact that we had wanted to do something to give back to our community, were intrigued by the program, then saw the article, seemed like fate to us,” Denise said. “We contacted the Dollywood Foundation to see if we could meet with someone who had begun their own version of the program and could walk us through the steps. Ironically, the couple we met with was the couple featured in the Reader’s Digest article. Our first book shipment was in June 2010 and we shipped 27 books.”

Last month, their book distribution exceeded 1,700, bringing the total number of books distributed to children in Washington and Greene counties through Briggs’ chapter of the Imagination Library, “Read with me Railway,” to 28,300.

As community champions, the Briggs family finances the books and postage through grants, fundraisers, sponsorships and out of pocket. When they began their project in 2010, they partnered with the Literacy Council of Southwestern Pennsylvania, a nonprofit organization, to assist with program promotion and the use of bulk-rate postage.

“The Dollywood Foundation takes responsibility for the processing of the books, but we do the rest,” Denise Briggs said. “We also try to get the word out and encourage families to register their children for the program. As our registration increases, and as we strive to acquire as many children as we can, we also become challenged for funding sources. We are in need of local sponsors and additional fundraisers to keep this program growing.”

Children who register for the program receive one book per month from birth until they reach age 5. The first book every child receives is Parton’s favorite, “The Little Engine that Could.” Each book arrives in the mail addressed to the child. Enclosed in the child’s first book is a letter from Parton.

In part, Parton writes, “If one wish of mine could come true, I hope my Imagination Library gives wings to all of your dreams.”

The last book children receive is “Look Out Kindergarten, Here I Come.” That book also comes with a letter from Parton, encouraging them to continue to read, check out books at their local and school libraries, and “dream big dreams.”

“I have known the Briggs family for a very long time, and we are so thankful for the gift they are giving so many children through this program,” said Mira’s mom, Jessica White of North Strabane Township.

“Reading a book at night would probably always be a routine in our house, but if it wasn’t for this program, many children wouldn’t have books in their home at all,” White said. “We appreciate the books so much, and Mira gets so excited when she sees the package each month and knows that inside is a new book that we will read together over and over again. Knowing how much joy she gets out of a new book is golden—and that is thanks to the Briggs family for their wonderful generosity.”

The Briggs family welcomes community support to help finance the local Dolly Parton Imagination Library through sponsorships and donations, or to register children for the program. For more information, visit www.readwithmerailway.org, or email the Briggs family at readwithmerailway@hotmail.com.

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