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The timing couldn't be better for Winkler Imagination Library organizers after receiving two large anonymous donations from two separate families.

Organizer Joyce Sawatzky says the $10,000 and $15,000 donations will go a long way in supporting the program that sees 800 children receive a free book every month.

The funds will cut the waiting list for the popular program which had grown to over 100 children.

"We didn't want to register more children than we could raise funds for in one year," Sawatzky says, adding in the past children could wait 3-4 months on average to receive their first book.

"While all donations are very much appreciated, that is where these large donations will be focused," she says.

She adds the donors had seen the impact of the Winkler Imagination Library, "they had noticed their child had an increased vocabulary, imagination, and enjoyment of books."

joyce booksSince the program's launch in 2014, there have been 1,660 children enrolled.

All of the children’s books come through the mail, individually addressed to any registered child, from birth to age five, who lives in the Garden Valley School Division catchment area. The money to fund the project is raised locally and the books are provided at a greatly reduced cost through the Dollywood Foundation of Canada, but the community must raise funds to pay the monthly cost of the book and postage. Sawatzky notes the books are educator selected and age appropriate.

The brainchild of country music legend, Dolly Parton (the Book Lady) the program was started in 1995, in Sevierville, Tennessee, her home county. The program has become so popular, it is now available to all of the US, Canada, Great Britain, Australia and New Zealand. She dedicates the project to the memory of her late father, who was illiterate.

The program is a project under Winkler Family Resource Centre, who saw the value in the project and share their charitable status with the Winkler Imagination Library. Parents may register their children for the program through Baby First, Central Station, Regional Connections or GVSD school liaison workers. Brochures are also available in the literature rack in the foyer of South Central Regional Library, or Dr. CW Wiebe Medical Centre.

The Winkler Imagination Library committee, who are all current or retired teachers and school division employees, saw the need for more books in homes for preschool children in GVSD. Sawatzky notes this prompted them to begin the program in Winkler in 2014.

joyce readingA child enrolled in the program from birth to age five will receive 60 books

"GVSD is a huge supporter of the project, noticing the rise in literacy rates of children entering kindergarten," she says. "Children are being impacted by the success of the program. One thing they are noticing is that the books are being read by many more than just the preschoolers who receive the book. They are being read by all the children in the family, in some cases, the parents too, are using the books to practice their reading and English skills."

Since their launch in 2014, there have been 1,660 children enrolled. A child enrolled in the program from birth to age five will receive 60 books. The cost to run the project is between $3.50 - $4 per month per child, which includes the book and postage.

Sawatzky says in the end, they hope to change the future for many Winkler and area children and families.

Anyone wishing more information on the program or wishing to donate to Winkler Imagination Library can contact the committee through email at [email protected]

joyce dollyWinkler Imagination Library committee members Dorothy Derksen (L) and Debbie Doell had the chance to meet Dolly Parton during her concert in Winnipeg in 2016.

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