United Way launches new literacy program

AUSTINTOWN, Ohio (WKBN) — A major effort to promote early literacy was unveiled Wednesday at Panera Bread in Austintown.

The goal is to give children in Mahoning County a free book every month until they are 5 years old. The program is called Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library.

The program is a partnership between the United Way of Youngstown and the Mahoning Valley, the Public Library of Youngstown and Mahoning County and Covelli Enterprises.

“The kids will get a book mailed to them and that goes directly to the pre-literacy skill of print motivation, which means a love of reading. When those kids see that book, they’re going to associate it with good feelings of getting a present and that will make them want to read more,” said Jo Nolfi of the Public Library of Youngstown and Mahoning County. “Anything that raises the level of literacy awareness for children and adults is a wonderful program and something we are happy to be on board.”

Kathy Mock, director of education and initiatives for the United Way, said early childhood literacy is very important because there is so much more expected of children in school today.

“I am most excited to advocate for children and for their success,” Mock said.

Children who can’t even read yet can be part of the program, with the goal of providing Mahoning County kids ages 0 to 5 with books.

“There are over 14,000 children from birth to age 5 in Mahoning County, so that’s a big number,” Mock said.

All parents have to do is sign up their children, which can be done at the library, the United Way’s website and at area Panera Bread cafes. The books will be mailed, with the first one arriving eight to 10 weeks after the registration is received. Books then will be mailed once a month until a child turns 5 or moves out of Mahoning County.

Children from the Austintown Community Church Preschool got their first book on Wednesday, “The Little Engine that Could.”

Covelli Enterprises thinks this could be a big changer in education.

“The impact that could have once the child gets to first grade could be enormous,” said Allen Ryan of Covelli Enterprises.

Bob Hannon, president of the United Way of Youngstown and the Mahoning Valley, said the Imagination Library program falls under the agency’s Success by Six initiative.

Register your child for Imagination Library here.

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