I know Mamma Mondays are for all things related to moms and an article about Dolly Parton might seem incongruous but stick with me.
Her Tennessee Mountain Home
I just returned from a week in the Smoky Mountains with my family and despite the fact that we started it with one sick child and ended with two sick adults, it was still a lovely trip. The mountains were beautiful, quite, and peaceful. The Smokey Mountains National Park, like all state parks, was glorious and reminded me of how lucky I am to live in such a beautiful country. But as we drove around the back roads of Sevierville, Tennessee, and the surrounding areas I was also reminded of the desperate poverty that exists in this very wealthy country.
One person doing something to change that is Sevierville native Dolly Parton. Parton is one of my absolute favorite people in the whole word. I think she is funny, feisty, and a genuine jewel in an industry of insincerity. She’s also a very generous woman.
As she herself has described it, she grew up “dirt poor” and if you listen to her lyrics, much of her music has championed the working class. She knows what it’s like to be truly poor and she understands the obstacles the poor face in “moving up” the social ladder which is why she started the Imagination Library.
I love Dolly Parton for myriad reasons but her understanding of the importance of literacy in breaking the poverty cycle is a big one. She is a strong proponent of early childhood education and the Imagination Library is one of the key projects of her Dollywood Foundation. It provides children who register with the program a new book every month until their fifth birthday. That may not seem like a big deal to many of us but when you realize that there are children who live in homes without a single book, it becomes clear it is a VERY big deal.
Starting Over Again
Here in the Rocket City, we have a similar divide between rich and poor. While many in our town are well-educated and live comfortable middle-class, upper middle-class, and in some cases privileged lives, there is also some extreme poverty here. But we can change that. We live in a city filled with engineers and rocket scientists (literally!). If ever there were a community that understood the critical role of early literacy it is ours.
While Dolly’s program does not extend to Huntsville, affiliates can be found in New Market, Hazel Green and Owens Cross Roads. And for those of us who live in Huntsville there is a new program that launched earlier this month Mayor Battles Book Club sponsored in part and administrated by First Book North Alabama . “Access to books is the greatest barrier to literacy for children,” says Mecca Musick, Chair of First Book-North Alabama. “We are proud to be partners with Mayor Battle’s Book Club and providing thousands of Huntsville children the opportunity to read and own their first books. Mayor Battle’s innovative program will excite young readers and strengthen childhood literacy in our community.”
Mayor Battle’s program will provide more than 3,000 local elementary students with their own personal library of new books (one every few weeks). Currently, this program is offered at seven different elementary schools in the area but with more support it could be expanded. I encourage you to “Be Like Dolly” and support this cause by going to the First Book site and finding out how you can help.
Jennifer is the creator and co-editor of Rocket City Mom. She is also a compulsive writer, avid reader, occasional singer and former communications wizard turned toddler wrangler. You can often spot her and her little ones cruising the kiddie hot-spots in their "Rocket Van".