By David Dotson, President of The Dollywood Foundation
On February 11, 2014, leaders from The Dollywood Foundation, United Way of Australia and Rotary International joined legendary entertainer Dolly Parton in Melbourne to launch her Imagination Library in the land Down Under. The announcement culminated two years of deliberation and planning by this unique partnership.
“I have been married to the same man for almost 50 years so I know a keeper when I see one.” said Dolly Parton. “Rotary and United Way are both keepers and I hope this is only the beginning of a true global effort to insure that children always have access to the magic of books.”
Over three years ago, Sherri Soncin of the Rotary Club in Mareeba, Queensland approached the President of the Dollywood Foundation, David Dotson, with the idea of bringing the program to Mareeba. This conversation then led to a feasibility study which ultimately produced a decision to move ahead with a pilot effort in Australia.
One key part of this pilot was the creation of a program in Noble Park, Victoria by the Rotary Club of Noble Park, District 9810. Launched in June 2013, 100 preschool children were enrolled by the Rotary Club and the success of that effort contributed heavily to the decision by all parties to move beyond the pilot stage into a full national program in 2014.
Shortly thereafter, in New South Wales a collaborative effort across 10 clubs in District 9675 has led to the launch of an Imagination Library in Illawarra to support up to 160 children in the Cringila and Warrawong areas of Wollongong.
Currently over 1,200 Australian children receive a book each month due to the combined efforts of all the partners during the pilot phase. However, the goal for 2014 is to push this number to 10,000 children each month in target areas of great need all across the country.
The Dollywood Foundation has international partnership agreements with both Rotary International and United Way Worldwide. This collaborative effort helps support the participation of over 735,000 preschool children each month in the United States, Canada, United Kingdom and Australia. Currently there is interest in expanding the program in New Zealand, the Republic of Ireland and South Africa—countries where both Rotary and United Way have a strong presence.
For more information, read about the Rotary-Dollywood Foundation partnership fact sheet and visit Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library Australia.
Join us at the 2014 RI Convention in Sydney for an informational breakout session about Rotary’s work with The Dollywood Foundation and United Way Australia to expand the Imagination Library in Australia.
*Video recorded in June 2013